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Pectoral injury ends season for Falcons' Kerney

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Patrick Kerney has been the ironman
of the Atlanta Falcons defense, starting 105 games in a row.

It appears the streak is over.

Kerney, a Pro Bowl defensive end in 2004 who leads the team with
five sacks, was lost for the season after tearing his right
pectoral muscle in a loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Falcons
announced Monday night that Kerney will need surgery.

Losing Kerney is the most serious blow yet for a unit that was
already missing three starters Sunday, including three-time Pro
Bowler John Abraham.

The Falcons are expected to line up for Sunday's game against
the Baltimore Ravens with second-year player Chauncey Davis and
rookie Paul Carrington, an undrafted free agent, as the starting
ends -- quite a change from Kerney and Abraham.

"We'll fight to the bitter end with whoever is standing," Mora
said. "The ones standing may be guys you haven't heard a lot
about."

Kerney was injured with about five minutes left in the second
quarter of a 17-13 loss to the Browns. He made the tackle near the
Falcons bench after tight end Steve Heiden caught an 8-yard pass,
but didn't get up right away.

When Kerney failed to reappear for the second half, not even to
watch from the bench, everyone knew he would likely be out a while.

"He's a model of how you practice, how you work out, what type
of player you should be," teammate Warrick Dunn said. "Losing him
is tough. He's one of those guys we've always counted on."

Abraham, who went down with a groin injury in Week 1 and then
needed abdominal surgery, has played only two games all season. He
is expected to miss at least two more weeks before the Falcons even
consider bringing him back.

Atlanta (5-4) also played Sunday without two other defensive
starters: cornerback Jason Webster and linebacker Ed Hartwell. In
addition, nickel back Kevin Mathis is out for the year -- his career
possibly over -- after he sustained a neck injury on the opening
kickoff at Detroit the previous week.

Webster is expected to miss at least a month after tearing his
groin in practice. Hartwell is still slowed by knee problems,
having struggled to recover from arthroscopic surgery on both
during the preseason.

Carrington, who played at Central Florida, was one of the
biggest surprises during the preseason. Now, he'll have to take on
an even bigger role.

"Coming out as a free agent, you doubt whether you'll even make
the team," Carrington said. "I let the stereotype about free
agents bother me a little bit, hearing people say that free agents
never make the team. I just tried to watch the veterans, what they
were doing, and that helped me out."

The Falcons also have journeyman Josh Mallard, who was cut
during the preseason but rejoined the team after Abraham was hurt.
He is more of a pass-rushing specialist than someone who can fill a
regular role.

Despite the loss of Kerney, the Falcons got good pressure on
Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye, who was sacked five times.
Mallard and Carrington each had a sack, with the rookie also
forcing a fumble.

"I've always heard that every good team is only as good as its
backups," Mallard said.

The Falcons will get a chance to find out.