FLOWERY BRANCH - The Atlanta Falcons got the bad news they expected
Monday: receiver Brian Finneran is out for the season after tearing up his left knee in practice.
Finneran, one of quarterback Michael Vick's favorite targets, went down during a workout Sunday night as he practiced a one-on-one drill with rookie cornerback Jimmy Williams.
The receiver shrieked in pain as he tried to cut to his left on a crossing route, and coach Jim Mora said afterward that that it looked serious.
An MRI confirmed that Finneran tore the anterior cruciate ligament, in addition to sustaining cartilage damage and a slight displacement of the knee cap.
He will undergo surgery on Wednesday or Thursday.
The loss of Finneran was a serious blow to the Falcons' hopes of bolstering an offense that ranked 27th in passing yards last season. While he wasn't a starter, he did lead all Atlanta wideouts with 60 catches for 611 yards and, along with tight end Alge Crumpler, had an excellent rapport with Vick.
''It's hard to ignore what Fin does for us,'' Mora said after Monday's practice. ''Maybe he didn't have the greatest numbers, but so many of his catches were significant catches. Now, somebody else has got to make those catches.''
The Falcons placed Finneran on injured reserve and signed long snapper Boone Stutz, who was cut by Tampa Bay a couple of weeks ago.
Vick was clearly shaken by the loss of one of his favorite receivers.
''He was a big part of this offense,'' the quarterback said. ''He was a guy I had become very comfortable with. It's going to take a lot to replace him. Some other guys have got to step up.''
That list begins with starting receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins, both first-round picks who haven't proven they can be as productive as Finneran.
Last season, Jenkins made 36 receptions for 508 yards and three touchdowns, while White caught 29 passes for 446 yards and three TDs. Both spent extensive time in the Falcons' offseason program working with Vick.
''This is going to put the onus on those young guys to step up even more,'' Mora said. ''The injury to Fin kind of amplifies it. They have to make an immediate impact.''
Finneran re-signed with the Falcons after last season, agreeing to a four-year contract that guaranteed him $3 million.
Now, it appears that ninth-year veteran Jerome Pathon (one catch for the Falcons in 2005) and rookie Adam Jennings (a sixth-round pick out of Fresno State) will have to play a much bigger role. Neither has the height or jumping ability that made the 6-foot-5 Finneran such an effective weapon.
''There's so many things I've been thinking about, all the great plays we made together to keep drives alive, to keep the offense moving forward,'' Vick said. ''We're going to miss him. He's a hard guy to replace.''
Since 2001, Finneran has caught 187 passes - 131 for first downs and 15 for touchdowns. He also played an important role on special teams for the Falcons.
At 6-4, Jenkins has the height and physical ability to make some of the plays that were part of Finneran's repertoire. But the third-year player has to win Vick's full confidence by making those tough catches in key situations.
''Me and Fin, we just developed this chemistry between us,'' Vick said. ''He had a natural feel for where I was going to place the ball in any situation. That's what I'm going to miss the most. Sometime, the ball is not going to be thrown right at you. You have to go get it. You have to jump for it, go to your left or right.
"That's what Alge and Brian do so well.''