Falcons' injury list long at season's halfway mark

FLOWERY BRANCH - Jim Mora started his session with the media like he always does, going over the Atlanta Falcons' injury report.

Might want to grab a seat, folks. This is going to take a while.

The Falcons' coach called out nine players who missed Wednesday's practice with injuries ranging from the serious (defensive end John Abraham is still recovering from abdomen surgery) to the not-so-bad (defensive tackle Grady Jackson has a habitually sore knee).

And that didn't even include safety Kevin Mathis and offensive guard Kynan Forney, who both went on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season.

While football is a brutal sport in which injuries are an accepted part of doing business, Mora is getting a little concerned about how the Falcons (5-3) will cope over the second half of the season.

''Every coach will tell you, 'You can't worry about injuries. You've got to play the guys who are out there,''' Mora said. ''That sounds good. That's what you tell your players. But when you're a coach, you worry about it. ... When you start losing a lot of guys at the same time, it can have a cumulative affect that is hard to overcome.''

He doesn't think the Falcons are at the breaking point yet, but it's apparent they can't afford to have too many more players go down.

For Sunday's game against Cleveland, the offensive line will be without starting guards Forney and Matt Lehr, who has one more week left on his steroids-related suspension. Rookie sensation Jerious Norwood, the understudy to running back Warrick Dunn, is questionable because of a sprained knee ligament.

On the other side of the line, Abraham has played only two games this season because of a groin injury and will likely be out at least two more weeks while he recovers from the related surgery. Middle linebacker Ed Hartwell came back from arthroscopic surgery on both knees to play in two games, but his lateral movement was so lacking that Mora sent him back to the training staff for more work. Mathis was a key player in the team's nickel packages.

''It's tough on a football team when you have so many guys go down midway through the season,'' quarterback Michael Vick said. ''We all know this is a tough sport. That's part of the game. It's unfortunate, but you've got to keep on pushing and playing until those guys are ready to come back.''

Forney and Mathis won't be coming back after going down in last Sunday's dismal 30-14 loss to the Detroit Lions.

Forney dislocated his right shoulder for the third time in the last five games, prompting the Falcons to shut down a key blocker in the running game for the rest of the year. It hasn't been determined if he will need surgery

As for Mathis, he sustained a scary neck injury while trying to make a tackle on the opening kickoff. He remained on the turf for several agonizing minutes and was treated overnight in a Detroit hospital, then returned to Atlanta wearing a bulky brace. While the Falcons expect him to make a full recovery, his career could be over.

Mathis was one of the Falcons' most popular players, inspiring his teammates by coming back from a severe knee injury that kept him out most of last season. He was usually the first guy off the bench in passing situations, allowing the team to slowly bring along its top draft pick, cornerback Jimmy Williams.

''I respect the heck out of (Mathis) as a player,'' Mora said. ''He's a tough, competitive, extremely feisty player. We'll miss him.''

The Falcons moved on by signing 31-year-old safety Lance Schulters, who started every game last season for the Dolphins but was out of a job through the first half of the season.

He won't be used in Sunday's game, giving him time to learn Atlanta's system. Williams will be used in the nickel schemes, while Cam Newton will back up safeties Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker.