Falcons cling to hope Pitts, Graham can return this season


FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons are not ruling out tight end Kyle Pitts and defensive end Ta’Quon Graham for the season, even though coach Arthur Smith said Wednesday each starter will have surgery.

The Falcons placed Pitts, their 2021 first-round pick, and Graham on injured reserve on Monday with knee injuries. Each will miss at least four games.

The Falcons (5-6) have only six regular-season games remaining, including Sunday’s game at Washington. Atlanta is only a half game behind first-place Tampa Bay in the weak NFC South, so Smith is keeping his options open for the final two games which could determine the team’s playoff chances.

Smith said more will be known about the players’ outlook to return this season following their surgeries. The team has released no details on the surgeries.

“We’re expecting those guys back in the short term,” Smith said. “... There are still some things unknown. I’ll lean on medical advice. Both those guys will have a procedure. We really won’t know until after those procedures what the timeline truly is."

Pitts hurt his right knee in the third quarter of Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Chicago Bears.

Chicago safety Eddie Jackson hit Pitts low after Pitts' 18-yard reception over the middle.

Pitts remained down for a few seconds before walking off the field under his own power.

MyCole Pruitt had a 17-yard catch after replacing Pitts against the Bears and is the most likely fill-in starter against the Commanders.

Smith said “it's never a one for one” when replacing a starter. The team's options at tight end include Parker Hesse and Anthony Firkser. Atlanta rookie Feleipe Franks was inactive last week because of a calf injury.

Tight end John Raine was signed to the practice squad on Monday. Raine spent the 2021 season on Atlanta's practice squad.

Pitts has 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns. He has not met the production from his 2021 rookie season, when he set a team record for tight ends with 1,026 receiving yards on 68 catches.

The loss of Graham for at least four weeks is a blow to the run defense. He has 34 tackles.