Facing off with one of the league’s hottest teams, it was Atlanta that looked white hot this week, ending the New Orleans Nightmare’s eight-game winning streak in a 28-17 victory.
“I’m really proud of the boys,” said Coach Rob Ryan. “Those other guys have been playing well, but we put the Wet Dream back to sleep.”
A hotly-contested game opened with a New Orleans field goal, and Atlanta answered with a 76-yard bomb from Matt Barkley to Cameron Meredith. After former-Firebird Aaron Murray hit SJ Green for a 31-yard TD, Barkley found Albert Wilson from 19 yards out for a 14-10 halftime lead.
Barkley and Wilson connected again, this time from 27 yards out, early in the third. New Orleans got back on the board to start the fourth on a 35-yard score from Murray to Rueben Randle, but a 9-play, 9-yard drive capped by a 1-yard Mike Tolbert plunge with under two minutes to play iced the game.
Barkley had arguably his finest game of 2018, completing 22 of 33 for 348 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
“He really sliced up an excellent defense,” said Ryan. “It’s been a tough campaign, but he kept his head down and kept working, and now it feels like he’s finding his footing at the right time.”
Matt Breida had a solid game against a stingy defense, running for 64 yards on 19 attempts and added 4 catches out of the backfield.
The dynamic duo of Meredith and Wilson was unstoppable, with Meredith catching 5 passes for 155 yards and one touchdown and Wilson hauling in 4 for 95 yards and 2 scores.
“I’m just thankful I don’t have to gameplan to stop those two dudes,” said Ryan. “They give us enough headaches in practice everyday.”
Brandon Boykin led the defense with 7 tackles, including one for a loss, and 2 pass breakups. Rahim Moore sparked the attack with a crucial pick six, and Aldon Smith tallied a sack.
Now alone in first place in the Southeast Division at 10-3, the Firebirds can’t afford to look ahead to the season finale showdown with the Orlando Rockets. They have to keep their focus on a pair of struggling teams the next two weeks first in the Mississippi Cottonmouths and the Washington Wave.
“We feel good about where we’ve positioned ourselves, but you have to come out and play every week, no exceptions,” said Ryan. “Mississippi and Washington would give anything to play spoiler, and we just have to make sure we got out there and take care of business both weeks, and then we’ll know that our final showdown will really count for something.”