By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
BIRMINGHAM — The Atlanta Legends’ slim playoff hopes came to an end on Sunday afternoon as the team let several opportunities slip away and the Birmingham Iron came away with a 17-9 victory at Legion Field.
“I am disappointed in the way we played, and we have beaten ourselves too many times this year,” Legends head coach Kevin Coyle said after the game.
The Atlanta Legends (2-6) return home to face the Salt Lake Stallions (3-5) on Sunday, April 7, at 4 p.m. ET at Georgia State Stadium. The game can be seen on Bleacher Report Live. Tickets to all Legends games are available here.
Atlanta controlled most of the game and out-gained the Iron in total yards, 266-177. But they struggled on third downs (3-for-13) and in the red zone (0-for-4).
The Legends settled for three field goals in those four red-zone trips, with kicker Younghoe Koo (3-for-3) nailing kicks from 31, 33, and 35 yards. The other trip to the red zone ended when quarterback Aaron Murray was stopped a yard short of the goal line on a fourth-and-goal play from the 2-yard line late in the third quarter.
“We got to keep on working, but it’s been our Achilles heel this season,” Coyle said of the missed red-zone chances.
The struggles in the red zone were compounded by four fumbles (two lost) and two interceptions. On special teams, the Legends committed three fumbles, and each proved costly.
In the second quarter, the Legends’ Dwayne Hollis fumbled on a punt return and Iron defensive back Elijah Campbell recovered the ball and returned it 36 yards to the Atlanta 1-yard line. Two plays later, Iron running back Trent Richardson scored a 2-yard touchdown and Birmingham led 11-3.
The Iron didn’t look back. They pounded the Legends with 114 rushing yards — 83 of them on 18 carries by Richardson. His stablemate Marshaun Coprich had three carries for 20 yards.
The Legends struggled to stop the Iron in short-yardage situations and the 2- and 3-yard gains added up and paid dividends down the stretch.
“I think it was momentum on their part,” Legends linebacker Jeff Luc said. “I think that was probably the only drive they had going in. We just got to go back, watch film and get better. We got to patch up the wounds and keep it moving.”
Luc played a great game with nine tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. He set the tone early for the Legends defense. As a unit, the defense gave up only the 177 yards and held Iron starter Luis Perez to a 49.3 passer rating (10-for-24 for 65 yards).
Offensively, the Legends were on the opposite end of the spectrum. Thanks to the third-down and red-zone struggles, Atlanta put up 266 total yards but couldn’t find the end zone. Starting quarterback Matt Simms started and was 13-for-22 for 135 yards with an interception and was pulled in the second half in favor of Murray.
Murray finished the game 5-for-10 and threw for 100 yards. He made plays with his legs to extend plays and nearly brought the Legends back.
But the fourth-down stop swayed momentum in Birmingham’s favor. The Iron held on late and improved to 5-3 on the season, clinching the second spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs in the process.
The Legends fell to 2-6 and were eliminated. They host the Salt Lake Stallions and travel to play the Memphis Express to close out the season.
Several players hope to finish the season on a high note.
“We got to show up every day with a 100-percent attitude,” receiver Malachi Jones said. “We still have something to play for and we got to lead by example.”
“Everybody wants to go out and finish by competing,” Luc said. “We just got to go out there and play our best.”
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Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter JaylonThompson.