AAF Week 6 Recap: Road Rules
As the second half of the inaugural AAF season gets underway, all eight teams continue to jockey for position in hopes of landing a playoff spot. But an outline of a hierarchy has taken hold, with a fairly clear view of the haves and have-nots. And this week's results played into that, as three of the four road teams won this weekend. So, who fed it and who ate it?
(Whoops, wrong column. Oh well, here we go...)
The Salt Lake Stallions put together a complete game to pick up their second win this season in defeating the Memphis Express, 22-9. The Stallions have been the hard luck squad of the AAF, playing solid games but not getting the result. That was not the case in Tennessee this week, as Salt Lake played well in all three aspects of the game to defeat the Express. Memphis' efforts took a hit, literally, as starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger was injured early in the game and was replaced by Brandon Silvers. The young signal caller was rudely introduced to Sack Lake, the moniker of the Stallions' defense, as he was brought down six times on passing plays. This would have been a challenging defense for the NFL tested Mettenberger to face, moreso for a green kid seeing his first meaningful action as a pro. On the other side, Salt Lake's Josh Woodrum would have a fine day (23 of 37 for 242 yards, 2 TD's, & INT) in leading the Stallions offensively to their best overall performance of the season. While Salt Lake (2-4) remains in the Western Conference basement, they still sit only one game behind second place and that coveted playoff berth. If they play games like that in the home stretch, the Stallions came make the postseason race really interesting. On the flip side, Memphis (1-5) looks to be relegated to playing out the string with the chance to play spoiler down the line. Quarterback problems have plagued them all year, either due to injury or ineffectiveness, and they now pick up a wild card. The Express landed the newly signed Johnny Manziel after San Antonio, who owned his rights by virtue of territorial allocation, decided to pass. Manziel over the course of both his collegiate and professional careers has been a livewire, both on and off the field. As talented as he is under center, his off the field problems have derailed his stops in the NFL and CFL (Canadian Football League). This is Manziel's last chance. If he's going to continue to play, he has to do it now.
The Arizona Hotshots handed the Orlando Apollos their first loss of the season, as they survive a last minute rally, winning 22-17 by virtue of an offensive penalty and subsequent ten second runoff. If these two teams meet in Las Vegas for the AAF Championship in six weeks time, the story of this game will serve as a juicy prelude. The Hotshots, smarting from a two game losing streak, came to play against the Alliance's last remaining undefeated team. And the Arizona defense did something no other team has done: intercept Apollos QB Garrett Gilbert. Hotshots linebacker Steven Johnson picked off the AAF's most prolific passer for the first time this season. Arizona would not give away the ball once, as QB John Wolford had an efficient game (16 of 27 for 162 yards & TD) and would lead the Hotshots to a five point lead with five minutes remaining in regulation. After trading possessions, Gilbert and the Apollos would make a furious drive down the field to score a game winning touchdown. They would get deep into Hotshots territory when a penalty flag was thrown as Gilbert was trying to spike the ball to stop the clock & make one more shot at a TD. The penalty was a false start against the offense. By rule, there would be a 10 second runoff. And seeing the fact that only three ticks remained, the penalty ended the game. It's a surreal way for both Arizona to snap a losing streak and for Orlando to suffer its first loss. It will be very intriguing to see how the Hotshots (3-3) and the Apollos (5-1) each respond to such a game next week. Arizona is a game behind San Antonio in the Western Conference & tied with their next opponent, the San Diego Fleet. The Apollos (5-1) still hold a one game lead in the Eastern Conference over second place Birmingham. They've played well with a string of wins, but let's see how they come back from a setback.
The San Antonio Commanders thrashed the Atlanta Legends 37-6 in the most complete dissection of one Alliance team on another. There's no other way to call it: this was an ass kicking from start to finish. The Commanders scored at least one touchdown from every unit (offense, defense, & special teams), they never trailed, never turned the ball over,... you get the idea. Atlanta, on the other hand, were exploited for every weakness they had, and their quarterback, Aaron Murray, threw three picks on the afternoon. This defeat was so decisive, Murray was pulled late in the fourth quarter to give Peter Pujals some garbage time reps. For an Atlanta team who won two games in a row heading into this match-up, it was a brutal loss to take, even if it was against the West's top team. The Commanders (4-2) retained their conference lead and face the Salt Lake Stallions in front of what will most assuredly a raucous Alamodome crowd as San Antonio stays home for three of their next four games. For the Legends (2-4), this has been a tumultuous season with the revolving door of coaches leaving these young players left to fend for themselves. Atlanta will fight, but they just can't stand toe to toe with any team right now.
The Birmingham Iron win on a 43 yard Nick Novak field goal as time expired to beat the San Diego Fleet, 32-29. It may have not been evident going into this game, but this would be a good test for Birmingham. The Fleet were undefeated at home, winning all three contests at SDCCU Stadium this season. The Iron were beat handily by Orlando last week, and a road game in a tough environment would be show what mettle this squad has. Birmingham would face more adversity as starting QB Keith Price was knocked out of the game due to injury, replaced by deposed starter Luis Perez. Perez would throw a ton (27 of 49 for 359 yards, 3 TD's, & 2 INT's) in this back and forth contest, with his Fleet counterpart Mike Bercovici playing tit for tat statistically (17 of 34 for 311 yards, 3 TD's, & 2 INT's). With most things even, the Iron one particular advantage: of their 24 first downs, 4 of them were by penalty. In close games, defenses that do not get off the field and extend opposing drives become liabilities to their own offensive units, and this was no exception. This was a big win for Birmingham (4-2), who remain one game behind Orlando in the East and enjoy a two game edge for the second playoff berth in the conference. The Fleet (3-3) are tied with the Hotshots for second in the West, with those teams facing one another in Tempe, AZ next week. That looks to be the game of the week.
Let's list those Week 7 games, as well as how you can watch. All games are livestreamed on the league's website, AAF.com
Orlando @ Atlanta Saturday, March 23, 2pm EDT (TNT)
Salt Lake @ San Antonio Saturday, March 23, 8pm EDT (NFL Network)
San Diego @ Arizona Sunday, March 24, 4pm EDT (CBS Sports Network)
Birmingham @ Memphis Sunday, March 24, 8pm EDT (NFL Network)
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