The Falcons confirmed that strong safety Keanu Neal is out for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee on Friday.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn will address the matter at his news conference.
Neal played 37 of 72 defensive snaps (51 percent) in the 18-12 loss to the Eagles on Thursday.
He left the game and then returned, only to leave again. The initial reports were that the injury was not serious.
Neal loss could be devastating to the Falcons’ defense. He’s the team’s big-hitter and run support stuffer.
Neal was named to the Pro Bowl following the 2017 season and has played in 31 games since joining the Falcons as a first-round draft selection in 2016. He has totaled 220 tackles (154 solo) with one interception, 15 passes defensed and eight forced fumbles.
Damontae Kazee, a second-year free safety from San Diego State, took over for Neal and played 35 snaps (49 percent) against the Eagles. He had a big hit on Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert that led to an interception by linebacker Deion Jones.
The Falcons added some depth at safety by trading for Jordan Richards, a second-round pick in 2015, on Aug. 31. The Falcons sent a conditional 2020 seventh-round pick to the Patriots for Richards.
The Falcons were set at safety with free safety Ricardo Allen and Neal as the starters, but Kazee was the star of the exhibition season.
The other safeties in training camp were Tyson Graham, Secdrick Cooper, veteran Ron Parker and Marcelis Branch. All were released.
Parker re-signed with Kansas City.
Richards, 25, was drafted out of Stanford. He’s 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds. He has played in 41 games and made seven starts for the Patriots.
He has played some at linebacker and on special teams, but was inactive for the game Thursday. He had some harsh critics in New England.
During the exhibition season, Kazee was named one of the NFL's rising defensive stars by NFL.com writer Ike Taylor.
“Kazee has outstanding awareness and ball skills, which will make it hard for Dan Quinn to keep him off the field, even with a deep secondary,” Taylor wrote. “Expect big things from a guy who reminds me a lot of Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu — both small, dominant free safeties. Does Kazee have what it takes to be a Pro Bowl-caliber safety? He's certainly trending that way, but I'm not ready to make that prediction. However, it's realistic to say he could spend a January weekend in Orlando (for the Pro Bowl) after Year 2.”
Kazee, 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Falcons.
NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, who called the game against the Eagles, also was aware of Kazee’s exhibition-season work.
“The one guy that I don’t know how they’re going to get (on) the field, and I know he’s had some penalties and all that stuff, but that Damontae Kazee, he’s a headache waiting to happen,” Collinsworth said. “That is a dynamic player. ... Kazee is a force. That dude is a hitter.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.