Firebird faithful didn’t get the big win they were hoping for, but they helped put on a show as the Birmingham Predators won the epic battle 23-21.

“It was a helluva game, but this one stings,” said Atlanta coach Rob Ryan. “If we want to play with the big boys, we’ve got to find a way to get over the hump against the elite teams. We’re close, we’ve just got to finish the drill.”

The defending champs opened the game hot, driving 13 plays in 8 minutes, taking a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard TD pass from Dak Prescott to Justin Blackmon.

The Predators’ next drive would not end as well, as it stalled and they were forced to punt. Kyran Moore took it to the house from 71 yards out to tie it 7-7.

Birmingham added a pair of Harrison Butker field goals in the second quarter to lead 13-7.

The Atlanta offense took time to get into gear, finally stringing together a scoring drive to open the third quarter on an 11-play march, capped off by a 5-yard Matt Breida touchdown.

Butker added his third field goal of the night to regain the lead at 16-14 evading to the final frame. Alvin Kamara padded the margin with a 50-yard run.

Atlanta kept swinging, and Nick Arbuckle connected with rookie wideout Preston Williams on a 55-yard touchdown to pull within 23-21 with 4:10 left, but their final drive went nowhere, and they lost.

Arbuckle had another solid showing, completing 15 of 23 for 226 yards and 1 touchdown against a top defense. Ricky Seals-Jones was his top target, catching 5 passes for 70 yards. Williams hauled in 3 for 80 and the score.

The ground game was held mostly in check, with Rodney Anderson running for just 36 yards on 11 carries. Breida picked up 23 yards on 10 attempts.

Birmingham’s ground attack battered the Firebirds, piling up 198 yards. The pass defense did an excellent job, limiting Prescott to just 149 yards through the air.

Brandon Boykin led the defense with 8 tackles. They were held without a sack or an interception.

Languishing at 1-2 in a brutally tough division, Atlanta faces a nearly must-win game this week as they host division foe Dallas (1-2).