An offseason of hard work and preparation did not pay off as intended as the Atlanta Firebirds went on the road in the season home opener and fell to the Birmingham Predators 20-17.
“It stings, I’m not going to lie,” said head coach Rob Ryan. “You grind all offseason, and you want to start off with a win, but unfortunately only one team can do it. We’ll get back to work on Monday and see if we come out with a different result next week.”
Defense was dominant, especially in the first half. The teams traded field goals, with Wil Lutz tying the game up at 3-3 on a 53-yard boot for the Firebirds’ first points of 2019. Birmingham pulled back in front late in the first quarter on a 47-yard touchdown from Dak Prescott to Josh Malone. A scoreless second quarter would see the Predators head into halftime with a 10-3 lead.
“You never want to go a half without finding the end zone, but hats off to Birmingham. That’s a solid team,” said Ryan.
Atlanta finally found pay dirt on their first drive of the second half with Matt Barkley hitting Cameron Meredith for a 33-yard touchdown bomb to tie it back up 10-10.
Birmingham responded with 10-straight points on a field goal and a one-yard Alvin Kamara plunge to head into the final frame head 20-10.
Atlanta got back into the end zone early in the fourth with Matt Breida scoring from seven yards out to cap off a 12-play, 92-yard drive. Unfortunately for the Firebirds, it would be the last score they would tally.
Despite the loss, there was a lot to like out of the Firebird defense. Offseason pickup Mark Herzlich led the way with 8 tackles, a total matched by stalwart Joplo Bartu. Ronald Blair notched the team’s lone sack.
They held the Predators to 279 total yards, including holding their talented backfield of Kareem Hunt, Prescott, and Kamara to under 4 yards per carry.
“All in all, I’m very pleased with the way our defense got after it,” said Ryan. “When you look at the talent they have in that backfield, we held them pretty well in check.”
The offense showed untapped promise. Barkley completed 21 of 33 passes for 253 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception while facing fierce pressure and going down on three sacks.
Brenda ran for 84 yards and a score on 23 carries.
Meredith hauled in 9 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown.
The Firebirds look to bounce back this week at home against the Michigan Stags.