FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons’ revamped offensive line took a major setback Sunday when left tackle Sam Baker was ruled out for the year after injuring his right knee in a preseason game.
The Falcons said the injury plagued Baker sustained a torn patellar tendon in a 32-7 loss to the Houston Texans on Saturday night.
First-round pick Jake Matthews could move from right to left tackle to replace Baker, but the injury is a huge blow to Atlanta’s efforts to bolster a line that was one of the league’s worst a year ago.
The Falcons ranked last in the league in yards rushing and quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times, in addition to being pressured 203 times, most in the NFL.
Baker played in just four games because of a left knee injury that required surgery in November. The Falcons were counting on improvement with Baker’s return, the drafting of Matthews with the No. 6 overall pick, and the signing of free-agent guard Jon Asamoah, another instant starter.
Now, it looks like Matthews might have to start right away at left tackle, a more demanding position that protects the quarterback’s blind side. Or the Falcons could turn to Lamar Holmes, who struggled mightily while starting 15 games a year ago.
“Following his injury in the game, Sam underwent a number of tests and it was determined that he had suffered a torn patellar tendon and will miss the rest of the season,” coach Mike Smith said in a statement. “Sam had worked extremely hard to get back on the field after missing most of last season, and he was having a good camp. I know he is disappointed, but I also know he is a very resilient football player and will do whatever he can to bounce back.”
Baker, a first-round pick in 2008, has started 61 games in his career but injuries have hindered his progress. He has undergone three back surgeries and even lost his starting job during the 2011 season.
O’Brien likes what he sees in rookies: Texans coach Bill O’Brien is in no hurry to rush his starters back for preseason games. That’s giving rookies ample time to impress and many did Saturday night in a 32-7 victory over Atlanta.
J.J. Watt, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Brian Cushing were among the Houston starters who did not play. O’Brien will decide later in the week how much time, if any, each regular will see Saturday night in Denver. The Texans will practice with the Broncos starting Tuesday, and O’Brien said those workouts could provide all the snaps the starters need.
O’Brien got what he wanted Saturday out of starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who bounced back from a bad preseason opener. Fitzpatrick completed 9 of 12 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
WR Shorts back, but not in form: Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III was back on the field but out of form Sunday.
Shorts returned to practice for the first time since July 25 and could play in Friday’s preseason game at Detroit.
Shorts worked with the first-team offense Sunday, a little more than three weeks after straining his right hamstring in the team’s opening training camp practice. He even caught a pass on the first play of 11-on-11 drills.
“It felt good,” he said. “After that, it was just downhill. Rusty, rusty, rusty. But I’ll be fine. ... I’m definitely rusty, so I’ve got to come out here, continue to work, not get frustrated and understand this is really my first practice since April or something like that.”
QB Foles gets back on track: When Nick Foles matched last year’s interception total in the first quarter of the first preseason game, the impatient critics began whispering about Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez.
They wondered if letting Vick go to the Jets would haunt the Eagles. They suggested that Sanchez would unseat Foles as the starter.
Foles bounced back from a poor performance against the Bears with a strong effort against the Patriots. He’s firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, even if he still has to prove to doubters his breakout sophomore year was no fluke.
“You never want to have a bad game,” Foles said Sunday. “It’s always going to feel the same whether you’ve been the starter forever or you’re a new starter. But if it happens, it’s one of those things where no matter who you are, people are going to look at you as the quarterback to see how you bounce back, how you are on the bus after the game, how you are the next practice. I’m hard on myself. But I knew I could bounce back.”