The rise continues. Two weeks after exorcizing their demons against Orlando, the Atlanta Firebirds added another big game kill to their mantle this week, knocking off the previously-unbeaten defending champion Birmingham Predators, 17-12.
“This season I’ve been preaching about taking that next step, about beating the big boys,” said Atlanta coach Rob Ryan. “We’ve always been able to hang with the elite teams, but we just haven’t been able to finish them off in the past. I told the boys you can’t hump until you get over the hump.”
As expected in a matchup of two of the league’s top units, defenses dominated the day.
The first half saw just one touchdown. Harrison Butker started the scoring with a field goal for Birmingham, and Atlanta pulled in front late in the first on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Nick Arbuckle to Preston Williams. Wil Lutz hit a 23-yard field goal to extend Atlanta’s to 10-3, and Butker made it a 10-6 game with 39 seconds left in the half.
The Predators pulled in front midway through the third quarter with Alvin Kamara slipping loose for a 22-yard touchdown run. Atlanta answered on the ensuing possession, driving 75 yards in 8 plays. Arbuckle capped it off with a 33-yard scoring pass to Penny Hart to regain the lead at 17-12 with 1:09 left in the third.
Neither offense could gain any traction in the fourth. Birmingham had one last gasp, but an Ethan Westbrooks walk-off sack sealed the Predators’ first defeat of the 2020 campaign.
Arbuckle continues to impress in his first year as a starter. The Birmingham win was another efficient outing that saw him complete 20 of 30 for 240 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
“At the beginning of the year, we handed the reigns to Nick and told him we wanted him to be smart but not to put his balls up on the shelf,” said Ryan. “Each week, he’s gone out there and competed his ass off and gotten a little better each time. We couldn’t ask for more out of him.”
Ricky Seals-Jones was his top target, catching 9 for 83 yards. Williams hauled in 4 for 56 with a score. Hart made his lone catch count, taking it to the house for the 33-yard touchdown.
Birmingham’s stingy defensive line limited the ground game to just 67 yards on 26 attempts.
Atlanta’s defense returned the favor. While Prescott scrambled for 63 yards on the ground, star backs Kamara and Kareem Hunt were limited to 42 total yards on 12 carries. Prescott threw for 240 yards with no touchdowns.
Corey Littleton paced the defense with 10 tackles. The defense did not force any turnovers, but Ryan Carrethers and Westbrooks each notched a sack.
Winners of five-straight games and sitting pretty at 6-2 overall, the Firebirds can’t let up now as they are currently third place in the brutally tough Southern Division. They face another fearsome foe this week when they host the 5-3 Nashville Renegades.