Finneran suffers likely season-ending knee injury

Veteran wide receiver Brian Finneran, an integral part of the
Atlanta Falcons' passing game, sustained a likely season-ending injury during a Sunday night practice, when his right knee buckled as he made a cut in a non-contact drill.

Finneran will undergo an MRI examination on Monday morning, but the Falcons already fear the injury is to one of the ligaments or possibly to the patellar tendon.

"We'll hope for the best," coach Jim Mora said, "but I'm not optimistic."

The injury occurred during a one-on-one segment of practice, with Finneran working against cornerback Jimmy Williams, the team's second-round draft choice this year. Finneran went down in a heap, grabbing at the area between his knee and ankle, observers said, and was taken from the field on an emergency cart. It comes at a time when Atlanta is trying to upgrade a passing attack that statistically ranked 27th in the NFL in 2005, and which has come under criticism the past two years.

A seven-year veteran, Finneran is the Falcons' No. 3 receiver, and is especially effective when working out of the slot. Finneran, 30, has 187 receptions for 2,647 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career, while playing in 87 games and starting 35 of them. Of his 187 catches, 131 have been for first downs. He had 50 catches for 611 yards and two touchdowns in 2005.

The Falcons are not particularly deep at wide receiver and, if Finneran is indeed lost for the season, the club may have to try to sign one of the few veteran free agents still looking for work, or rely on a youngster. The most immediate candidate to fill Finneran's role in the slot would be eight-year veteran Jerome Pathon, who has played sparingly over his last three seasons in the league.

Atlanta's two projected starters, former first-round draft choices Michael Jenkins (2004) and Roddy White (2005), have just three seasons of combined experience.

Like any team seeking veteran help at this juncture of the summer, the Falcons aren't apt to find much relief in the free agent market. Among the players still available in free agency are Az-Zahir Hakim, Kevin Johnson, Ricky Proehl and Johnnie Morton.