Falcons DB Mathis out for season with neck injury

Updated: November 7, 2006, 12:53 PM ET
Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kevin Mathis suffered a season-ending neck injury Sunday that is not expected to require surgery.

AP/Paul SancyaKevin Mathis, attended to by team trainers Sunday, faces an uncertain NFL future following the third major injury of his career.

Mathis will be placed on injured reserve after being hurt on the opening kickoff of the Falcons' 30-14 loss at Detroit.

Mathis has "all feeling, all movement" in all of his extremities, coach Jim Mora said Monday.

The team did not release any details on the neck injury.

The 32-year-old Mathis is expected to make a full recovery, but his future in the NFL is uncertain.

It's the third serious injury in his NFL career. As a starter for the New Orleans Saints late in the 2001 season, Mathis damaged his cervical spine, but returned to play in 11 games for the Falcons in 2002.

Mathis missed the 2005 season with a knee injury.

Mathis was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field after leading with his helmet and hitting kick returner Eddie Drummond's knee and thigh on the opening kickoff. He remained on the turf for several minutes and was kept in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on Sunday night.

"We're just being safe," Mora said. "You don't want to mess around with those things. It's too serious. You don't need to be brave, you don't need to be tough, you don't need to be a hero. You need to be smart. That's how the NFL treats it and that's certainly how our staff treats it."

Mora said defensive back and return specialist Allen Rossum and team assistant trainer Tom Reed remained in Detroit with Mathis through most of Monday. Rossum was expected to return to Atlanta late Monday night.

"Obviously, losing Kevin is a tough blow for our football team because of the kind of person he is on and off the field," Mora said. "We will miss his tenacious play and his leadership, but I am certain that we have the right guys on our team who will step up and keep on rolling as we head into the second part of the season."

Mathis played in every game this season, making 22 tackles and one sack.

Rossum replaced Mathis at nickel back Sunday, but the team could turn to rookie Jimmy Williams next Sunday against Cleveland. Another option is Omare Lowe.

"It's too early to say which way we're going to go," Mora said.

Mathis, a native of Gainesville, Texas, originally signed with Dallas as an undrafted rookie from Texas A&M-Commerce in 1997. The Cowboys traded Mathis to New Orleans before the 2000 season, and he signed with Atlanta before the 2002 season.

Mathis has played in 115 games with 55 starts.

In 2004, he joined Deion Sanders as the only Falcons to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same season.

Mathis has 11 career interceptions, including three in 2002. He set a career high with 87 tackles for the Saints in 2000.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press