Free safety has no problems following neck surgery

Updated: July 31, 2003, 5:55 PM ET

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- The stitches dissolved soon after the surgery, and the three-inch scar on the front of Keion Carpenter's neck is barely noticeable.

But make no mistake. Carpenter was terribly frightened as he lay motionless in the frozen end zone at Veterans Stadium six months ago during the Atlanta Falcons' playoff game with Philadelphia.

The Atlanta Falcons' starting free safety experienced brief paralysis after colliding head-on with Duce Staley. After a couple of minutes, the feeling returned to his legs, and Carpenter was able to stand up and sit on a cart that carried him into an X-ray room.

"Without question, any time you land on the ground defenseless and you don't even know why -- you've been playing football all your life -- and then you're in that type of state?" Carpenter said Thursday. "It's very aggravating, but I got through it."

After he returned to the locker room, Carpenter felt his arms, but the fear remained for the next several months. He underwent surgery to repair two fractured veterbrae.

Then he became an unrestricted free agent.

Carpenter had to wait until April 10 before he and the Falcons agreed to a one-year, $530,000 contract. He visited the Houston Texans and talked on the phone with the New Orleans Saints, but always wanted to return to Atlanta, where he led the secondary and became close friends and roommates on the road with quarterback Michael Vick, a fellow Virginia Tech alumnus.

A comfort zone with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who was head coach in Buffalo when the Bills signed Carpenter as an undrafted rookie free agent in 1999, also weighed in his decision.

"It's just a good situation for me," Carpenter said. "I never wanted to leave."

In setting a career high with 43 tackles and leading the Falcons with four interceptions, Carpenter showed why he beat out Keith Lyle for a starting job last year.

"He commands a lot of respect from the other guys," secondary coach Emmitt Thomas said. "They believe in him. If he makes a check, the whole defense responds immediately."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index