Neal suffered the injury right before halftime of the loss to the Lions while running toward the end zone. He fell down in pain, threw his helmet and was in tears as he was carted off the field. Teammates said he screamed out, “my f—ing Achilles” after the injury. Neal was spotted leaving Lucas Oil Stadium on crutches with a boot on his left foot.
Neal faces at least eight months of recovery after going down just three games into the season. The 2016 first-round draft pick suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of last season and missed the remainder of the 2018 campaign.
Neal’s absence means the Falcons will be devoid of their enforcer on defense. He developed a reputation as a hard-hitting, in-the-box safety capable of stopping the run. But Neal worked diligently to improve his coverage skills, and it showed.
Kemal Ishmael, a hybrid safety/linebacker, is listed as Neal’s backup at strong safety. The Falcons seem likely to look into free-agent options. They lost veteran safety J.J. Wilcox to an ACL injury in the preseason. Falcons coach Dan Quinn previously mentioned considering linebacker Foye Oluokun as a strong safety option when Neal went down last season.
As for Neal, he was expected to be signed to a long-term extension at some point if he returned fully healthy from the ACL tear. The Falcons already picked up his fifth-year option for 2020.
Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen, who tore his Achilles three games into last season, expressed his support for Neal.
“He understands the grind, man. He was with me last year; I was with him,” Allen said. “We understand what it takes to get back. We understand what this job [and the toll] on the body. He’s just got to keep being a believer, keep being strong, and don’t let it bring him down, man. It’s a long life. Got to keep that mind right.”