The Firebirds rebounded nicely. After a crushing blowout loss to Orlando in the regular season finale, Atlanta regained their footing in a 31-10 rout of the Boston Dragons in the first round of the playoffs.
“This is what you work for all season long, to make the playoffs and keep advancing,” said coach Rob Ryan. “I’m just so damn proud of the way the guys went out and took care of business. It’s never easy to beat a quality team three times in a season, but we did it.”
The lone score of the first quarter came when Don Jackson took his first carry of the season into the end zone from one yard out. A 20-yard Wil Lutz field goal pushed the lead up, but Boston sliced the margin down with a 48-yard bomb from Cooper Rush to Coby Fleener.
Atlanta closed out the first half with a flourish to put the Dragons away early. Matt Barkley connected with Cameron Meredith for a 24-yard touchdown, and Brandon Boykin scooped up a fumble and took it to the house for a 31-yard score and a 24-7 halftime lead.
Boston scored the only points of the third on a long field goal, and Atlanta put the game out of reach with under two minutes to play when Barkley found Nick O’Leary for an 11-yard touchdown.
Barkley was sharp, completing 23 of 39 for 258 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
The ground game was held in check, averaging just 2.3 yards a carry on 33 attempts.
Meredith notched 7 catches for 88 yards and a score. Albert Wilson added 7 catches for an identical 88 yards.
Aldon Smith lit a fire under the pass rush, sacking Rush three times. Telvin Smith added another sack, and Matt Daniel hauled in an interception.
With the franchise’s first playoff win under their belt, the Firebirds hope the third time is the charm when they go toe to toe with the Orlando Rockets again in the divisional round. The Rockets dominated the regular season matchup with a combined score of 79-20. The regular season finale’s lopsided play baffled the normally loquacious Ryan.
““I know I’m not at a loss of words often, but I just don’t know what to say,” said an unusually quiet Ryan after the defeat. “They whipped our butts again. I don’t know why we play with our tails between our legs against them, but I’m flat out embarrassed.”
Atlanta will look for redemption on the road, with a shot at the conference title on the line.