The final outcome was disappointing but the fans got their money’s worth as the Atlanta Firebirds fell to the San Antonio Marshalls 17-15 in a defensive slugfest.
“That one really stings. We had it right in our paws and let it slip away,” said Atlanta coach Rob Ryan. “We’re hovering around the top, we’ve just got to learn how to finish teams off. We can’t have these top teams on the ropes and not finish them off in the playoffs.”
San Antonio’s offense started well, scoring on their first drive of the game, then extending their lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter. The Firebirds locked in and did not allow them back into the end zone.
Atlanta’s lone points of the first half came on a Wil Lutz 24-yard field goal with 20 seconds left before the break.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Firebird offense kicked into gear in the fourth. A 9-play, 52-yard drive culminated in a 16-yard TD pass from Nick Arbuckle to Robert Davis. With just over 2 minutes left, Arbuckle found Cam Phillips for an 81-yard bomb. Failed two-point conversion attempts on both scores would come back to bite them as they led by only 15-14.
The Firebirds looked like they had the victory sealed up when Nick Marshall picked off his second pass of the game, but he fumbled it back over. San Antonio needed just 10 yards to set up the game-winning field goal with 16 seconds left.
In a game where both quarterbacks struggled against elite defenses, Arbuckle completed just 11 of 29 for 189 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, and 5 sacks.
Ricky Seals-Jones was his top target, catching 4 for 36. Davis caught 3 for 51. Phillips made his lone catch count, taking it 81 yards for a touchdown.
Rodney Anderson ran for 60 yards on 14 attempts and caught 3 passes for 35 yards.
Even in the loss, Atlanta’s defense showed they may be the best in the business, holding the Marshalls to their lowest scoring output of the season. Kony Ealy, Aldon Smith, and Ethan Westbrooks each tallied a sack, and Marshall picked off two passes.
“It was a helluva of an effort by my guys to keep them in check, we just couldn’t get enough momentum going on offense,” said Ryan.
Sitting at 8-4 overall, the Firebirds can’t afford to lose any ground. They face a sturdy test this week when they travel to play the 7-5 New Orleans Nightmare.