Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Keanu Neal can expect fine but Falcons' biggest issue is injuries


PHILADELPHIA -- Let's face it: If the Falcons went into the bye week with a three-game winning streak, a 7-3 record and a comfortable 2½-game lead in the NFC South, it just wouldn't seem right, would it?

So they gave us pause again Sunday.

The Falcons were hammered on both lines of scrimmage, were gashed for 208 yards rushing and failed to run the ball effectively themselves. They lost to Philadelphia 24-15, so go into the bye week a bit battered and bruised, particularly around the ego. For my full column on the game, click here.

The Falcons will need to soldify a number of things when they return, but their playoffs hopes also may rest on the condition of some players after the week off. Here's a few individuals down the stretch:

• Safety Keanu Neal: He likely won't be suspended but almost certainly will be fined for a fourth-quarter helmet-to-helmet hit on Philadelphia wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Neal, known as a hard hitter but not a dirty player, broke up a pass with a vicious hit but didn't get nearly low enough on the "strike zone" (Matthews' chest) and, according to the Eagles' player, "I definitely think it was a penalty. My helmet was bent. I had to change out my facemask and my visor."

Neal was not penalized but it's not uncommon for players to get fined after plays are reviewed by the league.

Neal, who's rapidly become one of the leaders on the Falcons' defense, said: "Never do I ever attempt to hit someone in the head. You guys know I’m a physical player but I’m not trying to hit the dude in the head. They didn’t (throw) a flag. I don’t think I hit him in the head. But I don’t know. I didn’t attempt to hit him in the head."

Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson and Eagles players and fans went ballistic when Neal was not flagged.

Neal: "I heard the reaction but I didn’t see a flag. I thought it was a clean hit."

Judge for yourself:

-- Desmond Trufant: The starting cornerback and the Falcons' best defensive player missed the Philadelphia game because of an injury in the shoulder/pectoral area. The team has been mum on the nature of the injury but anytime there's open discussion of "seeking a second opinion" from doctors, it's never something as simple as a sprain. As a general rule, second opinions are for questions like, "Can he play with this?" And, "How much pain will be in?" And, "Will he need surgery?" So even if Trufant does return, how effective will he be as a shutdown a cornerback?

-- Tight end Jacob Tamme: He has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, also undefined by the Falcons. Tamme may not be the single-most important weapon on the offense but his loss would put more pressure on rookie Austin Hooper, who caught a pass but had a drop against Philadelphia.

-- Running back Tevin Coleman: The Falcons' offense functions better when they can alternate Coleman and Devonta Freeman at running back, along with fullback Patrick DeMarco. Coleman's breakaway speed is at another level. He has missed the last three games with a hamstring strain. But the bye week is well timed, and Coleman has been working out on the field and could be back for the first game back against Arizona.

With Coleman back, the Falcons' offense could be fine. But if Trufant can't return, the defense and the team will suffer.

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EARLIER: Falcons go into the bye week the wrong way

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.