The season-ending torn biceps muscle suffered Saturday by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn means that Courtney Upshaw will be busier Sunday when the Falcons take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.
When Clayborn was lost on the third defensive snap in Saturday’s 36-20 playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks, the Falcons lost a very productive player.
Clayborn missed three games during the regular season with a knee injury, yet still finished second on the team with 4.5 sacks and second with eight tackles for lost yardage. The six-year veteran started seven games and played in 13, finishing with 22 tackles, 14 quarterback hits and one fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The Falcons still have defensive ends Dwight Freeney, Brooks Reed and Tyson Jackson and outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. often plays like an end.
The Falcons will have their hands full Sunday trying to keep Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers contained, and Upshaw is likely to see his role expanded in that effort.
The 6-foot-2, 272-pound, five-year veteran, who joined the team as a free agent in March, saw most of his action this season at defensive tackle, starting five games inside, including the past four. The former Alabama linebacker can move around.
Upshaw had 23 tackles in 13 regular-season games, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
“That’s a factor for us. We do have good versatility because of Upshaw,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “He’s able to play defensive end and defensive tackle so we’ll rely on him more to play outside at defensive end. Past that, there won’t be a lot of change other than using guys in a versatile way.”
This isn’t the first hit the Falcons have taken at defensive end. Derrick Shelby, who started four of the first six games of the regular season, went on injured reserve before the seventh game with an Achilles’ tendon injury.
The rest of the tackle rotation of Grady Jarrett, Jonathan Babineaux, Ra’Shede Hageman and offensive guard/defensive tackle Ben Garland will be taxed. Jackson has also played inside.
Atlanta has two defensive linemen on the practice squad in end Martin Ifedi and tackle Joe Vellano. It is possible one of them could be added to the active roster.
Clayborn suffered a knee injury Nov. 27 against Arizona and missed the next three games before returning to start against Carolina, New Orleans and then the Seahawks.
Players were not available to the media Monday.
“We’re totally bummed for A.C., for a guy who really busted his butt to come back from his knee as quickly as he did,” Quinn said. “It was … for me an emotional time. One of the guys asked him, ‘How’d you get back so fast?’
“He said, ‘It was really easy for me; watching you guys working every day pushed me to get back faster.’ I thought was a clear demonstration for his love of his teammates. … Definitely a string of bad luck for him.”