John Abraham expected to play

  • ESPN.com news services | January 16, 2013

Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said he expects defensive end John Abraham to play in Sunday's NFC Championship Game.

Abraham, the NFL's active sacks leader, made it through just 15 snaps in last week's divisional playoff victory over Seattle before aggravating a left ankle injury that forced him to leave in the second quarter.

"You don't want to lose a good player," Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We won the game, so there's something we did right. But it does change things."

The Falcons are making contingency plans in case Abraham is unable to play at full strength against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Abraham, who has not been available to speak with reporters this week, missed practice on Wednesday even though Smith listed him as having limited participation.

But it's clear the Falcons (14-3) will be pleased to have Abraham on the field for any length of time against San Francisco (12-4-1).

"He's a sack master," linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. "That's what I like to call him -- Father Abe. We look forward to getting him back out there this week. I think the guys that had a chance to play in his absence did a good job stepping in and doing what they need to do in order to help the team get the win."

Abraham, 34, was initially hurt in the regular-season finale loss to Tampa Bay, limping off the field with the help of trainers.

The Falcons are giving reserve ends Cliff Matthews, Jonathan Massaquoi and Lawrence Sidbury more work this week in case Abraham has to make an early exit.

Matthews took the balance of the work against Seattle, playing 46 snaps and making two tackles opposite Kroy Biermann, Atlanta's other starting end.

Abraham, though, is a special talent.

"Obviously, he's an integral part of this defense," Biermann said. "When you lose a player like that, it kind of puts a little bit of strain on you, but the guys behind him know that they've got to step up, play that role and get it done."

Though Abraham's 122 career sacks rank 13th on the NFL career list, he hasn't had one since Nov. 29 when he took down New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to help seal a 23-13 victory.

Before the Falcons traded for him in 2006, Abraham had a long injury history in six years with the New York Jets. He's overcome assorted ailments and offseason surgeries with Atlanta, however, and has missed just two games in the past six seasons.

"When you watch the film, he played through the pain a little bit," strong safety William Moore said. "It was hard to even tell. He rotates a lot, so I didn't even know he was out at one point."

Moore learned of Abraham's absence soon enough while Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were carving up Atlanta's defense in the second half. After Vance Walker sacked him early in the third quarter, Wilson completed 13-of-18 passes for 230 with two TDs.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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