Injury bug won't stop biting Falcons as they rule out Devonta Freeman with knee injury

The injury bug is on the loose in Atlanta and it's found yet another victim. It's been one week and the Falcons have already lost three of their most important players to injuries. 

Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal is out for the season with a torn ACL. Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones is on injured reserve with a foot injury, but he might return later this season. And now, Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman has been ruled out for the Falcons' Week 2 game against the Panthers due to a knee injury that cut short his season debut a week ago.

On Friday, Falcons coach Dan Quinn told reporters that Freeman won't play Sunday, but they hope he won't miss a significant amount of time given that he suffered no structural damage.

The good news is that the Falcons have one of the better backups, a backup that they give reps to even when Freeman is healthy. Tevin Coleman has totaled 2,319 yards and 21 touchdowns from scrimmage since 2015. He's a fine player.

If the Falcons are only without Freeman for a week, they should be able to manage with Coleman in the backfield. But if the Falcons are without Freeman for more than a week, this won't be an easy injury to overcome. 

From 2015-17, when Freeman served as the Falcons' featured back, he averaged exactly 1,000 rushing yards, nearly 10 rushing touchdowns, over 450 receiving yards, and two touchdown catches per season. In that span, he ranked sixth in yards from scrimmage behind only Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and LeSean McCoy. So, he'll be missed in an important divisional contest against the Panthers, who have a chance to go up two games in the NFC South over the Falcons with a win.

It's early, but the Falcons' season-opening loss to the Eagles, during which their red-zone issues from a season ago reappeared, combined with the injuries they sustained during that loss has dampened the Super Bowl buzz that followed them into the season. A win over the Panthers on Sunday would prevent them from falling into an early two-game hole in the division and would help flip the narrative, but at this point, health might be the Falcons' biggest concern, which is really saying something considering just how bad they were in the red zone last week.

The Falcons won't get Neal back this season, but they need Jones to get back late in the year if they're going to mount a postseason run. And to be in a position to do that, they'll need Freeman to get healthy in a hurry.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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