The Falcons’ rapid slide from Super Bowl contenders to a fight for last in the NFC South has featured major injuries to key players as well as miscues at inopportune times.
They couldn’t quite make it to the end of this sorry season without more of both.
The Falcons lost 34-24 to the 49ers late Monday after their comeback attempt ended abruptly with an 89-yard pick-six. They then learned that starting defensive tackle Corey Peters will need surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered during the game.
Falcons coach Mike Smith also revealed Tuesday that rookie safety Zeke Motta had surgery on Sunday to repair a fracture of the C1 vertebrae in his neck. Motta, a seventh-round draft choice, suffered the injury during Atlanta’s 27-26 victory over the Redskins on Dec. 15.
Smith said the recovery time for Motta’s injury is 4-6 weeks.
Motta was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and Smith said Peters soon will be on IR. Both will miss the season finale Sunday against the Panthers at the Georgia Dome.
Peters, 25, faces a challenging rehabilitation—his agent, Greg Linton, said Peters would need about eight months to return to the field. That time frame would mean Peters wouldn’t be ready for the opening of training camp but could possibly participate in exhibition games before the start of the 2014 season.
The play of Peters has been a bright spot for Atlanta’s defense. His 667 snaps are third-most on the team, his five sacks rank tied for second and he’s also been very effective stopping the run.
The Falcons (4-11) are going nowhere so losing Peters and Motta for the season finale against Carolina on Sunday is nearly moot. But it’s a bad stroke of luck for Peters because he is eligible to become a free agent after the season and now will be recovering from a major surgery.
“He’s going to have to get it going (in rehabilitation) and hit it but I know he will,” Smith said. “I feel for Corey. It’s a tough injury to have, especially at this time of the season.”
Peters will be the sixth Falcons starter to end up on season-ending IR. He joins tackle Sam Baker, linebacker Kroy Biermann, fullback Bradie Ewing, tackle Mike Johnson, and wide receiver Julio Jones.
It’s the second time Peters will be hampered by injury in the off season. He suffered a stress fracture while working out following the 2011 season, an injury that forced him to miss the first six games of 2012.
Smith posted a message to his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon in which he thanked his friends, family and fans for their support.
“I will work hard and come back stronger than ever I know that God has a plan for me and that things will work out for the best,” Peters wrote.
Falcons players were off Tuesday. That gave them time to mend their bodies and contemplate their failure to capture a victory that would have boosted morale if not improved the team’s draft order.
The Falcons had a chance to win even after failing to score in the third quarter. After Matt Ryan’s touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez cut Atlanta’s deficit to 27-24 with 2:09 left, Matt Bosher executed a perfect on-side kick and Jason Snelling recovered it.
But with Atlanta driving to score, the 49ers snatched the potential victory away. Tremaine Brock pried away Ryan’s pass from Harry Douglas, then teammate NaVorro Bowman snagged the pass from the air and ran it back for the score that put away the Falcons.
There were other second-half pratfalls before that fateful play.
An offsides penalty against veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora extended San Francisco’s game-tying touchdown drive. Rookie linebacker Paul Worrilow was called for a questionable pass interference penalty that led to a go-ahead field goal. Kendall Hunter busted through the defense for a 45-yard run that led to a 27-17 hole for the Falcons.
The Falcons have played with more verve over the past five weeks but still lost three of those games.
“I thought that the effort and energy was outstanding (Monday),” Smith said. “I think we still fell short in execution. It was hard-fought, though. I was proud of the way the guys played. We just ended up a couple plays short.”