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Falcons RB Devonta Freeman goes on IR with groin injury

(AP Photo/Michael Perez, File)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is going on injured reserve, another major setback for a team that already has lost several key players.

Coach Dan Quinn said Tuesday that Freeman's groin injury was more serious than initially thought, forcing him to undergo a surgical procedure.

In another injury related move, the Falcons signed kicker Giorgio Tavecchio. He will fill in at least one game for Matt Bryant, who strained his right hamstring making a 57-yard field goal in the 34-29 victory over the Buccaneers.

One of the NFL's highest-paid running backs, Freeman is the fifth Atlanta player to go on injured reserve this season. He follows safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, linebacker Deion Jones and offensive guard Andy Levitre.

Neal, Allen and Levitre are all out for the season. The Falcons hope Jones, sidelined by a foot problem since Week 1, will be able to return after missing the required eight games.

Freeman has been slowed by a variety of injuries the last two seasons. This year, he missed three games with a bruised knee sustained in a season-opening loss at Philadelphia. When he returned for a game at Pittsburgh, he went down with a foot injury and also was bothered by groin soreness that caused him to miss last Sunday's victory over Tampa Bay .

"Following the game against Pittsburgh, where Devonta injured his foot, we thought he was just having general soreness in his groin area," Quinn said in a statement. "As the week went on it continued, so we decided to have him get some tests. It has been determined that he will need a procedure that will result in us placing him on injured reserve. We are hopeful he will be able to return this season, but we will have a better feel for that in the coming weeks."

Freeman will have to sit out at least eight games while on IR, which means he wouldn't be eligible to return for the Falcons (2-4) until the next-to-last game of the regular season.

Freeman signed his big deal after two straight 1,000-yard seasons, both of which resulted in him being voted to the Pro Bowl. But he sustained two concussions and a knee injury in 2017, causing him to miss two games and clearly limiting his effectiveness even when he was on the field. He dipped to 865 yards rushing and 36 pass receptions, both significant drop-offs from the two previous seasons.

In an effort to keep Freeman healthy, the Falcons didn't use him at all during the preseason. Freeman talked optimistically of being fully recovered and eager to regain his previous form, but those plans went awry in the very first game.

Now, his long-term future with the Falcons is in doubt.

Tevin Coleman, who has stepped in as the No. 1 back, is in the final year of his contract. The Falcons must decide whether to invest in a new deal for Coleman, which would likely mean cutting ties with Freeman and taking a salary cap hit, or going in a totally different direction. Rookie running back Ito Smith has shown potential and would be a much cheaper alternative than either Freeman or Coleman for 2019.

The signing of Tavecchio was expected after Bryant was ruled out for next Monday night's game against the New York Giants. The Falcons are off the following weekend, while gives the 43-year-old kicker a full three weeks to recover before Atlanta plays at Washington on Nov. 4.

Tavecchio spent last season with the Oakland Raiders, connecting on 16 of his 21 field goal attempts - three of at least 50 yards - and all but one extra point. He was with the Falcons for the final game of the preseason, making him familiar to the coaching staff and a logical choice to step in when Bryant was injured.

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Updated October 16, 2018

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