Shoulder injury adds to Hall's disappointment

DeAngelo Hall

FLOWERY BRANCH - DeAngelo Hall knew it was the kind of play that could define a season.

The Pro Bowl cornerback returned an interception 65 yards last week at Tampa Bay, but a potentially great moment was spoiled when Hall landed 22 yards shy of the goal line.

A touchdown would've given the Atlanta Falcons a 21-14 lead in the final seconds of the first half. Instead, they had to settle for Todd Peterson's 31-yard field goal three plays later.

Not only could the Falcons have used four extra points late in the fourth quarter, but they also had to play the second half and overtime without their best defensive back.

DeAngelo Hall separated his left shoulder after falling hard on Michael Pittman's collar-tackle.

In the locker room following the Christmas Eve setback, Hall was despondent that the Falcons had blown a chance to play this week for a postseason spot.

The second-year veteran, selected last year as the No. 8 overall draft pick, considered 2005 nothing but a big letdown. The Falcons (8-7) regressed with five losses in their last seven games.

"How can you say we didn't?" Hall told ESPN. "What else would you call it? We went to the (NFC) championship game last year, then we beat the team (Philadelphia) that kept us out of the Super Bowl in our opener this year, and everyone figured, 'OK, here we go.' But instead, we aren't going anywhere but home after next week."

As much as Hall played up his chances to earn a Pro Bowl bid during the last two months, missing the NFL's annual all-star game in Hawaii no doubt will disappoint him. The fact that the Falcons played so poorly after improving to 6-2 following a Week 9 win at Miami left Hall downright depressed.

The injury means that Hall's rematch with Steve Smith must wait until 2006. Smith, Carolina's star receiver, caught seven passes for 65 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown on a second-quarter screen that Hall nearly intercepted at the line of scrimmage.

Hall's budding friendship with Smith was publicized in the days leading up to Atlanta's 24-6 loss to the Panthers four weeks ago. After keeping Terrell Owens out of the end zone in a season-opening victory over the Eagles, Hall wanted to as many one-on-matchups that his coaches would afford him opposite an opponent's best receiver.

Though New England successfully used Deion Branch against him in a Week 5 victory at the Georgia Dome, Hall played well enough many times to shut down the left side of the secondary.

He wanted to shut out the Bucs' Joey Galloway for the second time this season, but the NFL's sixth-leading receiver caught six passes for 85 yards as Hall stood with his left arm in a sling.

Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms was looking for Galloway when Hall played the route perfectly and recorded his fifth interception. Jumping for the ball and cradling it in his right arm, Hall nearly outran every Tampa Bay player that tried to take him down.

Unfortunately, as Hall avoided one Buccaneer and turned inside to try and score, Pittman caught up and jumped on his back.

"Maybe I got spoiled last year, going so far into the playoffs as a rookie," Hall said. "I don't know. But I know this isn't the way this season was supposed to be. We're better than this."

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