After Sunday’s thrilling 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears, the Atlanta Falcons are surprisingly just a half-game out of first place in the NFC South and in position to make a run at winning the division.
But any optimism surrounding the Falcons (5-6) in Arthur Smith’s second season as coach was overshadowed Monday by knee injuries to tight end Kyle Pitts and defensive end Ta’Quon Graham, who were placed on injured reserve.
Pitts, who plays a valuable role in Atlanta’s offense with his unique skill set as a receiver and blocker, injured his right knee Sunday. Though the Falcons have not confirmed the severity of the injury, NFL Network reported that the team believes he suffered a torn MCL.
“I did not go to medical school so I listen to the experts,” Smith said Monday, before Pitts’ move to IR. “Obviously it’s important with a player of Kyle’s caliber, and I understand why it’s newsworthy and people want to know, but I, not trying to be evasive, let the guys who are medical experts handle it.”
Graham, the team’s starting left end, also suffered a knee injury Sunday and had to be carted off the field. Both Pitts and Graham will have to miss at least four games before returning from IR.
The injury to Pitts put the Falcons behind the eight-ball against the Bears with fellow tight ends Feleipe Franks and Anthony Firkser inactive. MyCole Pruitt and Parker Hesse saw increased action as a result of Pitts being out. But the loss of Pitts for any period of time is a major blow to Atlanta’s offense.
Pitts has 28 receptions for 356 yards and two touchdowns over 10 games. He was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2021, with 68 receptions for 1,026 yards and one touchdown.
“I know the stats aren’t as gaudy as his rookie season but his impact on winning has been enormous for us,” Smith said. “I know at times we haven’t been in sync with the way we’ve had to play, and you are going to sacrifice some passing numbers. But the guy’s a great teammate. He doesn’t pout like a lot of guys with that kind of hype. But he’s a real person and that’s why we love him. And the future is really bright for him.”
Graham, a stout run defender, has 34 tackles and a fumble recovery this season.
This week, Atlanta travels to take on the red-hot Washington Commanders in a critical game that could help determine a playoff spot. Washington (6-5) has won two in a row and five of its last six games.
Taylor Heinicke replaced Carson Wentz at quarterback and improved to 4-1 as the team’s starter this year following the Commanders’ 23-10 win over Houston. He also led Washington to a 32-21 upset of previously undefeated Philadelphia on Nov. 14.
The play of Heinicke, along with a resurgent rushing attack led by Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson, has been critical to Washington’s recent success.
Another key has been the play of the Commanders’ defensive line. Despite playing without star defensive end Chase Young due to a torn ACL he suffered last season, Washington has 29 sacks through 11 games, tied for 10th in the league.
Young was activated to Washington’s 53-man roster Monday and could make his season debut against Atlanta. The Falcons’ offensive line is playing well, but it will face a major challenge against a rugged Commanders front which features Daron Payne (6.5 sacks), Jonathan Allen (6.5 sacks) and Montez Sweat (6.0 sacks).
–Field Level Media