Dante Fowler played hurt against Cowboys, status in doubt vs. Bears

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) fumbles the ball after being sacked by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) with help from defensive end Dante Fowler (56) in the first half Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) fumbles the ball after being sacked by Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (45) with help from defensive end Dante Fowler (56) in the first half Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/AP)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Not long into Sunday’s 40-39 loss to the Dallas Cowboys did Falcons defensive end Dante Fowler re-injure his ankle.

The setback occurred on the Falcons' second defensive play. Fowler first engaged Cowboys left tackle Brandon Knight before fighting him off in anticipation that running back Tony Pollard was about to hit a hole inside. Pollard saw Fowler’s adjustment and tried to bounce the run outside.

Fowler followed, which forced Pollard to reverse course again.

Regrouping his feet to cut back inside, Fowler stumbled and eventually fell to the turf. In the process, Fowler tweaked his left ankle, which he first injured during training camp. Fowler came off the field on third down, but returned for the next possession. Banged up, Fowler was still able to share a sack with Deion Jones while forcing quarterback Dak Prescott to fumble the ball. Fowler finished the game and saw 57 total snaps.

Even so, it was clear Fowler was playing through an injury as the game continued. Falcons coach Dan Quinn confirmed as much this week, with Fowler sitting out of practice both Wednesday and Thursday.

“Going into the first game against Seattle he looked fresh and recovered from (the ankle injury),” Quinn said. “He definitely had a setback in the second game very early. ... He showed a lot of toughness and resilience wanting to fight through it. He’ll have to have a good week getting his strength back in that spot. If he can do that, we’ll let it rip again. In the two games, he was definitely hobbled, but showed a lot of toughness to fight through it knowing, ‘Hey man, I want to keep going and battle for it.’”

The Falcons signed Fowler this offseason to a three-year contract worth up to $48 million. Fowler has recorded half a sack in each of the first two games with the Falcons. His status for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears is up in the air now that he’s missed consecutive practices. Also concerning for the Falcons is that not only has Fowler missed the past two practices, but so has fourth-year defensive end Takk McKinley.

While he didn’t record a sack against the Cowboys, McKinley was applying consistent pressure on Prescott before suffering a groin injury. A week earlier against the Seahawks, McKinley totaled a sack and six quarterback hits.

The Falcons signed Fowler to improve a pass rush that totaled only 28 sacks in 2019, with only seven coming in the first eight games. Through two games in 2020, the Falcons have totaled four sacks, which ranks tied for 16th in the NFL.

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris praised Fowler for fighting through his injured ankle and finishing against the Cowboys.

“I’ve been pleased with Dante,” Morris said. “His effort, his toughness, he goes out there no matter what and plays hard. He’s relentless.”

While Fowler and McKinley haven’t been able to practice, defensive linemen Charles Harris and Marlon Davidson have been limited participants over the past two days. If Fowler and McKinley are unable to play, then the Falcons will have to hope that Harris and Davidson will be available.

Davidson, the team’s second-round selection in this year’s NFL draft, has been recovering from a knee injury suffered during training camp. Harris hasn’t practiced much this preseason while dealing with his lingering ankle injury.

In a 0-2 hole, the Falcons need to fix a myriad of defensive problems that have led to a start where they are giving up an average of 39 points (last in the NFL) and 476.5 yards (31st of 32 teams).

On his half-sack forced-fumble play early in the first quarter, Fowler showcased why the Falcons thought he could be a missing piece to bolster the pass rush. Fowler lined up wide and against the slot receiver before sprinting toward Prescott after the snap. Knight picked up Fowler, with the veteran pass-rusher noticing Prescott moving away from the pressure Jones was providing from the other side.

As Jones wrapped his arms around Prescott, Fowler was able to adjust his body and reach his arm out to knock the ball out of his hands. Defensive lineman John Cominsky was able to recover the ball at the Cowboys 22-yard line, and quarterback Matt Ryan hit receiver Calvin Ridley for a touchdown a play later.

Whether Fowler’s ankle heals in time for him to play Sunday remains to be seen. He’ll certainly be missed on an otherwise banged up Falcons defense if he’s unable to play.

“He’s done some really good things as far as tackles for loss, being explosive,” Morris said. “He’s a guy who has been doing a great job since he’s been here. I’m really fired up about Dane Fowler and where he can go.”

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