FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons announced Friday that starting safety Keanu Neal will miss the remainder of the 2018 season after suffering a knee injury in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night.
Neal left the field twice during Thursday's game, and he did not return to action after walking off the field with trainers in the third quarter. The third-year safety was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career in 2017, and he has drawn praise from the coaching staff for his work ethic this offseason and in training camp.
"That one hurts for us," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Friday. "He certainly exemplifies not only our style as a ball player but as a teammate, too. We're bummed for him, and that's certainly tough for us today."
Replacing him against the Eagles was second-year safety Damontae Kazee, who helped create one of the biggest plays of the night for the Falcons by jarring the ball loose from Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert, which then was intercepted by linebacker Deion Jones. The interception set up the Falcons' first touchdown of the season and helped them take a 12-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
"We love Kazee's style, and we actually had [Ricardo Allen] down playing some strong [safety] as well," Quinn said. "... Kazee has really improved. I think you guys have seen that through the offseason. He'll be ready for an extended, for sure."
The emergence of Kazee is certainly a good thing for the Falcons, but Neal was not only a top player out on the field but a respected leader on the defense. When asked about what Neal's loss will mean for the defense, defensive end Takk McKinley said it was tough to hear the news.
"For us to lose our leader, it's a sad day for everybody," McKinley said. "All we can do now is play for him. People got to step up, players got to step up, coaches got to step up. We've just got to do better."