The Atlanta Firebirds kept pace in the playoff chase with a crucial 30-14 home win over the Boston Dragons this week. Entering the game tied, the victory gives Atlanta a season sweep over the Dragons and bumps their record to 7-3, while dumping Boston a game lower.
“That’s the kind of effort we’ve been looking for. We took some punches early, and it didn’t faze us,” said Coach Rob Ryan. “Anytime you can score two straight convincing wins against good teams, you have to be pretty happy.”
Boston scored on their opening drive, pushing 10 plays and 63 yards in a more than six-minute drive. Wayne Gallman capped off the possession with a 5-yard run, but the Dragons missed the extra point in a sign of things to come. They would not reach the end zone again on the day.
Atlanta pulled in front with a 30-yard Wil Lutz field goal and a 59-yard bomb from Matt Barkley to Cameron Meredith late in the first quarter.
The Dragons kept the came close, sandwiching a 34-yard Lutz field goal with a Josh Lambo field goal and a David Parry safety to keep within 13-11 at the half.
The Firebirds came out swinging after the break, going 59 yards in five plays. Matt Breida finished the drive with a 6-yard scamper to make it a 9-point lead. The defense made their mark with a 44-yard pick six from Rahim Moore for a 27-11 lead heading into the fourth.
After a Lambo 45-yard field goal, both offenses bogged down late as the teams exchanged seven straight punts. Lutz iced the game with a 24-yard field with under two minutes to play to make it 30-14.
“It wasn’t our prettiest effort, but you’ve got to expect a grind-it-out game when you’re playing a good team like Boston,” said Ryan. “We’ll take any ‘W’ and just keep pushing forward.”
Even after receiving a vote of confidence with the trade of Matt Nichols, Matt Barkley struggled again, completing just 15 of 36 for 228 yards and 1 touchdown.
“We’re kind of at a loss with Matt,” said Ryan. “Just when you think he’s turning the corner, it goes haywire again. We’ll just have to keep looking to find a fix.”
Breida led a solid-if-unspectacular ground game with 54 yards and a score on 10 carries.
Meredith dominated again, hauling in 7 passes for 160 years and a touchdown.
Defensively, the Firebirds limited Boston to 79 yards on the ground and allowed no passing touchdowns. Bacarri Rambo racked up 14 tackles, and former NFL All-Pro Aldon Smith notched his first two SFL sacks to lead the way. Joe Vellano and Grady Jarrett each tallied a sack, and Rahim Moore dealt the big blow with his pick six.
Atlanta sets their sights on win number eight this week on the road at the 5-5 Birmingham Predators. The Predators are coming off a 33-30 upset of the New York Marauders.
“We weren’t going to look past them even before they beat New York, but that win definitely makes you stand up and take notice,” said Ryan. “We’ve got to stay focused on offense and let our defense go out there and slap Dork (Dak Prescott) around and we’ll be fine.”