Atlanta Legends quarterback Matt Simms is chased down by Birmingham Iron's Devin Taylor during Legends home opener Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at Georgia State Stadium. Atlanta lost 28-12.
Photo: Steve Schaefer/For the AJC
Photo: Steve Schaefer/For the AJC

Atlanta Legends struggle in first loss at home

The Legends’ crowd wanted to see backup quarterback and Georgia product Aaron Murray, and you could hardly blame them.

The “We want Murray!” chants rang out at Georgia State Stadium Sunday as the Atlanta Legends dropped to 0-3 in the young Alliance of American Football season, falling 28-12 to the Birmingham Iron (3-0).

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s understandable,” Legends coach Kevin Coyle said of the chants. “The local fans are excited about Aaron and looking for his opportunity to come. But that didn’t affect Matt at the end of the day.”

Starter Matt Simms finished the game 28-for-48 for 328 yards and one garbage time touchdown. He threw three interceptions, had multiple delay of game penalties and lost 25 yards on three sacks taken. While he racked up more yards than he did in his first two games combined, he didn’t do it when it mattered. The Legends were 3-12 on third downs and only scored six points in four red-zone trips.

“We’re just scratching the surface as far as who we can really be,” Simms said. “We just have to hone in on the details and make sure we don’t hurt ourselves, and that starts with me.”

Down 20-6, Atlanta had a change to swing the momentum when Carlos Merritt intercepted Birmingham’s Luis Perez and gave the offense the ball at the Birmingham 11-yard line with less than five minutes left in the game. Simms and the offense followed up with a sequence that could be described generously as disastrous.

Atlanta Legends' James Quick is tackled by Birmingham Iron's Beniquez Brown Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta. The Legends fell, 28-12, in their home opener.
Photo: Steve Schaefer/For the AJC

Before they could snap the ball once, the Legends got a false start penalty to push the ball back five yards, their eighth penalty of the game. Simms followed up with a trio of incompletions to set up fourth-and-15. 

Sensing the game was getting out of hand, coach Kevin Coyle kept the offense on the field. Again, the play clock ran all the way down, forcing running back Tarean Folston to call a timeout. Simms took a 13-yard sack, turning the ball over and effectively ending the game for the Legends, despite there being over 10 minutes left on the game clock. It was the fourth time the Iron stopped the Legends from scoring a red-zone touchdown.

“We had three chances in the red zone today that we didn’t come away with the touchdown we could’ve, and that’s the entire game right there,” Coyle said. “We were dominating the game early on both sides, but you let a team hang around instead of putting those points on the board … before you know it the game is lost.”

Trent Richardson ran for 46 yards and three touchdowns for the Iron in the victory. Their offensive attack was balanced out by 160 yards through the air from quarterback Luis Perez.

The first half saw Atlanta dominate the game, but come away with very little to show for it. At halftime, the Legends trailed 9-6 despite racking up 15 first downs, 207 total yards and controlling the ball for more than 19 minutes.

Credit goes to the Birmingham defense, which forced three red-zone stops, one interception and one fumble, which was recovered by Atlanta.

Birmingham Iron's Trent Richardson runs past Atlanta Legends' Jeff Luc on his way to the end zone Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019, at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Steve Schaefer/For the AJC

The Legends’ first drive was one of few bright spots. The Legends took the ball first — there are no kickoffs in the AAF — and chugged down the field on a 16-play drive that included six first downs. The drive was halted in the red zone when offensive lineman John Kling went down with a serious injury that required a cart to take him off the field. The entire Legends team cleared the sidelines to huddle around Kling and offer support. 

“Even when there are dark moments when we are 0-3 and battling against ourselves, we all realize too that we are one play away from our last play,” Simms said of the response to Kling’s injury. “Despite all the adversity we are going through, we can see that we love each other and we want to do well.”

After a delay of at least five minutes, the Iron stopped the Legends for no gain on consecutive plays before a bootleg, fourth-down pass attempt from Simms fell incomplete, resulting in a turnover on downs. 

Birmingham’s first half touchdown drive came through dubious circumstances. On the first play of the drive, Perez went play-action and tossed a prayer toward the Legends’ end zone. Atlanta defensive back Damian Swann made slight contact with the Iron receiver on the play, resulting in a pass interference call that gifted Birmingham first-and-goal. 

Two plays later, Richardson punched it in from five yards out. There are no extra points in the AAF. The Iron missed the two-point conversion, but they took a 9-3 lead.

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