If defense wins championships, then the Atlanta Firebirds have to feel bullish about their chances following a dominating 22-3 win over the New Orleans Nightmare.
While the offense was sluggish, the defense was simply suffocating, limiting New Orleans to just 168 total yards.
“Damnit that was an enjoyable win. I’m gonna have some nice wet dreams thinking about what we did to the Nightmare,” said Atlanta coach Rob Ryan. “The way my defense is flying around lately has me hard as a rock non-stop. Gonna have to see a doctor about this four-hour boner I’ve got.”
Atlanta didn’t need much offense to win as long as they had Wil Lutz, who booted five field goals on the night. He started it off with one from 38 yards, and he also hit from 28 and 21 as Atlanta led 9-0 after one quarter. He hit again from 50 to lead 12-0 at the half.
The Firebirds scored the only touchdown of the game early in the third quarter when Matt Breida broke loose for a 51-yard touchdown.
New Orleans scored their lone points of the game on a 25-yard Lance Geesey field goal with 1:49 left in the third.
Lutz put them away with a 50-yard bomb, his fifth successful kick of the night, with 10 minutes left in the contest to seal up the 22-3 win.
Quarterback Nick Arbuckle continued his string of shaky play of late, completing just 13 of 31 for 104 yards and an interception. His top target was Preston Williams at just 4 catches for 30 yards.
The ground game picked up the slack, with Breida running for 130 yards and a score on 26 carries. Rodney Anderson picked up 80 yards on 10 attempts.
Aldon Smith, Ethan Westbrooks, and Robert Nkemdiche each notched a sack, and Brandon Boykin and Siran Neal each tallied an interception.
Neal has become a pivotal piece of the defense. A first round pick in 2018 who had been a key backup and special teamer, he was forced into the starting lineup when All-Pro Bacarri Rambo was arrested. Neal has kept the defense humming on the backend.
“There’s a reason why we thought enough of him to make him a first round pick. He’s a helluva talent,” said Ryan. “I hate the way we had to throw him into the lineup, but he’s made the most of his chance.”
The 9-4 Firebirds face another tough test this week when they travel to play the 11-2 Buffalo Gunners.
“Our schedule doesn’t let up, but I like it that way,” said Coach Ryan. “If we’re going to be in the playoffs, we’re going to get punched in the mouth every week, and I don’t want it to be the first time we’ve tasted our own blood. We need to know how to take a blow and dish it out, and I think we’re going to be ready to fight come the postseason.”