Falcons running back Tevin Coleman, who’s in the NFL concussion protocol, and left guard Andy Levitre (triceps injury), were declared out of the Tampa Bay game on Saturday by coach Dan Quinn.
The Falcons (8-5) are set to play the Buccaneers (4-9) at 8:30 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.
The Panthers (9-4) and the Saints (9-4) are one game ahead of the Falcons with three to play. The Panthers host the Green Bay Packers (7-6) and the Saints host the New York Jets (5-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday.
With Coleman out Devonta Freeman will carry the major bulk on the load at running back. Freeman rushed 24 times for 91 yards and a touchdown in the 20-17 victory over the Saints on Thursday, Dec. 7.
“Both of them are incredibly tough,” Quinn said.
Freeman has rushed 152 times for 680 yards and six touchdowns. Coleman has rushed 139 times for 593 yards and five touchdowns.
Coleman has not missed a game this season. He was knocked out of the Saints game when defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins slipped a block and pummeled Coleman in the backfield.
Coleman had to take over early in the season when Freeman was out with a concussion. Freeman suffered a concussion on the second play of the game against Dallas. He missed the rest of that game, Seattle and the first Tampa Bay game.
While Freeman was out, Coleman thrived. He had 59 carries for 223 yards and four touchdowns.
The Falcons offense won’t change much with Coleman out.
“We feature them a lot in the same way,” Quinn said. “We are fortunate that both of them we feature in the pass game as well. Both are good protectors in the blitz game. Both can either align outside and it’s not just underneath routes, but routes (Matt Ryan) can throw down the field.”
Coleman has 21 catches for 245 yards (11.2 yards per catch) and two touchdowns. Freman has 20 catches for 144 yards (7.2 yards per catch) and no touchdowns.
“That’s a big advantage when a running back can have routes down the field as opposed to a quick throw or an underneath throw,” Quinn said. “When you have guys who can run routes as a receiver, legitimate receiving routes, that’s a big difference. We are real fortunate in that way in that both of them are able to handle that.”
Freeman has continued to run hard and with abandon after suffering from his second concussion of the season. He also missed two weeks during the exhibition season with a concussion.
“It’s just something that you’ve been doing your whole life,” Freeman said. “(I) don’t know how to play any other way. I’m going to approach in the same way. I’m just going to go out and play football. Nothing has changed.”
Levitre was on the side working the training staff this week. He didn’t flinch while hitting the a dummy bag with his hands. He injured his left triceps.
Quinn has been pleased with his progress.
Ben Garland, who will make his second NFL start, will takeover for Levitre.