Pitts, 22, left Sunday’s game in the third quarter after taking a hit just above his knee from Bears safety Eddie Jackson on a catch across the middle. He did not return, and Falcons coach Arthur Smith said Monday that he was “out in the short term.” NFL Network reported that Pitts tore the medial collateral ligament in his knee, an injury that typically requires at least six weeks to recover, and the Falcons have seven weeks remaining in the regular season. Pitts is seeking a second opinion before deciding on whether to undergo surgery on his knee.
Pitts, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft out of Florida, made the Pro Bowl as a rookie after catching 68 passes for 1,026 yards and one touchdown. He’s been utilized less in his second season, as most of the Falcons’ passing statistics are down from a year ago. Pitts has 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns, and he was Atlanta’s leading receiver in the win over Chicago, catching three passes for 43 yards before the injury.
It’s been a frustrating season for Pitts, whose catch rate dropped from 62 percent of targets his rookie year to 47 percent this season, with rookie receiver Drake London emerging as the top target for quarterback Marcus Mariota as the offense has pivoted to a strong focus on the running game. The Falcons are on pace to throw for 2,900 yards after throwing for 3,987 last season in Matt Ryan’s final year in Atlanta. The Falcons have already rushed for 1,753 yards in 2022 after totaling 1,451 last year.
The Falcons (5-6) are a half-game back of the Bucs for the NFC South lead but losing Pitts would take a key weapon away from their passing game. Atlanta’s depth at tight end is limited, as Parker Hesse and MyCole Pruitt are used more as blockers, with Hesse having five catches for 50 yards and Pruitt having four for 31 on the season. Pruitt caught a 17-yard pass for a key third-down conversion in Sunday’s win. The Falcons also have Anthony Firkser, who has three catches for 39 yards, and converted quarterback Feleipe Franks, who has no catches this season; both were inactive Sunday against Chicago.
Atlanta has another new injury to contend with; starting defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham also injured his knee Sunday and had to be carted off the field. Smith did not have any specifics on a timetable for a return for Graham, a 2021 fifth-round pick from Texas. Graham has started nine of 11 games this season and has been productive with 34 total tackles.
The Falcons have a tough challenge Sunday playing at Washington, which is 6-5 and has won five of its last six games. From there, they’re home against the Steelers (3-7) before their bye week.
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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