The Atlanta Falcons hope they won't be without a few key defensive stars in the playoffs.
Defensive end John Abraham, the Falcons' top pass rusher, left the game with an apparent left ankle injury in the fourth quarter of Atlanta's 22-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Abraham couldn't put his weight on the ankle as he was helped off the field.
Abraham's injury came after starting cornerback Dunta Robinson suffered a head injury in the first quarter and did not return. His helmet hit Doug Martin on the running back's 3-yard gain. Robinson walked off the field and was escorted to the locker room.
Despite the Falcons (13-3) already having clinched home-field advantage, coach Mike Smith chose to stick with his starters all the way. Smith, who didn't think the injuries to Abraham and Robinson were serious, wanted his team to gain momentum since it will have a first-round bye in the playoffs next week.
``You want to go out and play your best,'' Smith said. ``To go out there and not play your best is counterintuitive to guys in that locker room and it's counterintuitive to us as football coaches.''
Smith said he never considered removing his starters after Abraham's injury.
``Absolutely not,'' he said. ``We've said from the very beginning that we were going to continue to play this game to win.''
In other injuries around the league, Indianapolis lost starting guard Joe Reitz in the first half of the Colts' 28-16 win against Houston with a head injury. Texans linebacker Daryl Sharpton left with a hip injury, while fellow linebacker Tim Dobbins left in the second half with what coach Gary Kubiak thought was a shoulder injury.
In New Orleans, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton appeared to injure his lower left leg in the fourth quarter of the Panthers' 44-38 win. Newton's leg was caught awkwardly under defensive end Turk McBride on a hit shortly after Newton had thrown. Newton returned after missing several plays to complete a touchdown drive.
Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker hurt his right thigh while trying to make a tackle in the first quarter of the Bengals' 23-17 win over Baltimore and didn't return. He said the injury wasn't serious.
Chicago tight end Matt Spaeth left the Bears' 26-24 win over Detroit with a concussion.
Miami tight end Anthony Fasano and linebacker Kevin Burnett left the Dolphins' 28-0 loss to New England in the third quarter and were evaluated for concussions. No results were announced.
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