AAF Week 5 takeaways: Three wild finishes, the Legends' cold-blooded kicker, plus an emerging QB
Here are five takeaways from Week 5 of the AAF, including our Player of the Week
The midway point of the AAF regular season is in the books, and we saw three of the four games go down to the wire in wild fashion.
The Salt Lake Stallions had yet another heartbreaking loss, this time to the San Diego Fleet, as they gave up a game-winning field goal after taking the lead with under a minute left. At 1-3, the Stallions are the most frustrating team in the AAF, as they keep falling apart in late-game situations. In the other Saturday game, the trend of backup quarterbacks rallying their teams continued, as Keith Price came in for the Birmingham Iron against the league-best Orlando Apollos. The Iron ultimately came up short, but Price gave fans a lot to look forward to.
On Sunday, it was a fun battle between 1-3 teams as the Atlanta Legends -- led by Aaron Murray -- took on Zach Mettenberger and the Memphis Express. Mettenberger struggled, but Murray played well enough to get the Legends the win behind kicker Younghoe Koo, who's perfect on the season and hit his second straight game-winning FG.
Finally, the San Antonio Commanders-Arizona Hotshots game was a tale of two halves, as the Hotshots nearly clawed their way back from a 26-0 halftime deficit. Though they came up four points short, quarterback John Wolford showed why he's worth gambling on, and the Commanders showed why they're the West team most capable of challenging the Apollos.
Here are all our takeaways from Week 5:
Commanders, Hotshots prove exactly how unpredictable they are
Call it the Commanders playing overly conservative, call it the Hotshots playing with nothing to lose. Whatever happened, San Antonio nearly lost the 26-0 lead it took into halftime over the Hotshots. Arizona's John Wolford came out rough, throwing a pick-six to Derron Smith on the opening possession of the game. Two interceptions and a fumble later, and the Hotshots found themselves down by 26, and the Commanders were rolling.
In the second half, something clicked for the Hotshots. Wolford looked more confident airing it out, and Rashad Ross had a phenomenal half. The Hotshots clawed back, scoring 25 of the game's next 28 points, but a fumble on a fourth-and-12 (which the AAF uses instead of an onside-kick attempt) and a sack taken by Wolford on another onside attempt ultimately proved to be too much to overcome.
The Hotshots are true to their name: Unbelievably streaky, and one of the best offenses in the game when Wolford is on. However, when Wolford struggles, things pile up quickly. This is three-straight losses for our preseason No. 1 team after a 2-0 start, and they now trail the Commanders as well as the Fleet in the West.
Even the comeback had some seriously ugly moments. Arizona's final scoring drive had two-straight interceptions that were negated by a hold before the throw and a pass interference after Wolford threw into triple coverage. Thought they managed to punch it in, the offense never seemed to have rhythm.
The Commanders, for all of their flaws, have emerged as contenders in this league. They have work to do, but Logan Woodside looks poised, and their secondary is starting to shore itself up -- if only a little bit. Having a guy make these throws is huge.
Then there are plays like this, which are just beautifully designed.
The Commanders need to keep their foot on the gas, but they're the West team that's proven most capable of challenging the Apollos in the East. Moving forward, we'll see if they can navigate the West first.
Younghoe Koo is cold-blooded
While we shouldn't be looking at the AAF as a pipeline to the NFL just yet, Younghoe Koo might be playing his way into an NFL contract. Koo connected on three field goals in the Legends' 23-20 win over the Memphis Express, including a go-ahead field goal with just nine seconds left -- his second-straight game-winner. The kicking fraternity is tight, and good kickers are so rare NFL teams may be looking to kick the tires on guys who do well in these leagues -- despite Koo's struggles in his brief stint with the Chargers.
Koo is 11 of 11 on field-goal attempts this season, accounting for 33 of the Legends' 67 points. Koo couldn't be on a better team to showcase his talents, as the Legends have been woefully bad inside of the 20-yard line.
Time and time again on Sunday, the Express got the Legends into third-and-5-plus yardage situations. And time and time again, the Legends were able to convert. Aaron Murray and Seantavious Jones were a strong connection all day, and Malachi Jones contributed as well. With a steady diet of misdirection plays, the Express defense was kept off balance, and the Legends dominated the time of possession battle.
Zac Stacy played well for the Express, providing a scoring presence in the red zone, but it ultimately wasn't enough. Zach Mettenberger failed to impress, throwing a backbreaking interception late with the Express knocking on the door in a 20-20 game.
Only time will tell if Murray is actually the answer at quarterback for the Legends, but lately the strategy of "get Koo in position to kick it" has proven to be effective. While the Legends need to improve upon their red-zone offense, right now they should just celebrate the winning streak.
Birmingham found a spark with quarterback Keith Price
Though 3-1 heading into Saturday's game against Orlando, Birmingham had one of the least-efficient offenses in the Alliance, averaging fewer than five yards per play per game. And even though starting quarterback Luis Perez had one of the mostin professional football, he wasn't improving. His pick-six to Apollos cornerback Keith Reaser in the first quarter of a 31-14 loss was his third interception on the season -- and he still hadn't thrown a touchdown.
Perez was replaced on the following possession by Keith Price, who provided an instant spark to the Iron's beleaguered offense. The former Washington Huskies signal-caller did what Perez could not: escape the pocket and extend the play. Price's legs were valuable -- Orlando had a hard time bringing down the slippery quarterback -- but he also picked apart Orlando's zone defense, connecting with tight end Wes Saxton for a team-leading 75 yards.
It can be difficult for defenses to corral mobile quarterbacks coming off the bench. Orlando prepared all week to see Perez, who until Saturday had taken every snap for the Iron. As a result, one of the AAF's best defenses didn't have much of an answer for Price's 249 yards of total offense. Price's ability to escape the pocket and make plays downfield led, finally, to the Iron's first passing score of the season.
Price is the fourth notable quarterback to come off the bench and make a positive impact for his team, joining the likes of Memphis' Mettenberger, Atlanta's Murray and San Diego's Philip Nelson (though Nelson is sidelined with a clavicle injury for the next month). Birmingham may not have beat the AAF's best team, but Price led two scoring drives to make it a one-possession game in the third quarter. Orlando is just that good and always seems to have a response for whatever is thrown its way. The 14 points doesn't tell the whole story. The Iron were far more effective and fun to watch with Price.
Stallions may be the most unfortunate team in the Alliance
It wouldn't be right to call the Stallions "unlucky." They aren't 1-4 by accident. Eventually, you are what your record says you are. But no team has lost in gut-punching fashion as frequently as this one. In Week 2, the Stallions blew a 9-0 lead over Birmingham to lose 12-9. In Week 4, they stayed within striking distance of Orlando and trailed by three points heading into the fourth quarter, only to lose 20-11. Then, on Saturday, after taking a dramatic 25-24 lead over San Diego in the final minute of the game, the Stallions gave up a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Salt Lake City has been a part of some great finishes ... it's just been on the wrong side of them. Saturday's game is one the Stallions could have won. They relinquished a halftime lead, allowing San Diego to score three-straight touchdowns spanning the third and early part of the fourth quarters. Two of those touchdowns were defensive scores: a 41-yard fumble return by Jordan Martin and an 18-yard pick-six by Kam Kelly. But even after scoring 14 unanswered points of their own in the final four minutes, the Stallions still couldn't find a way to finish.
Multiple front office members from other teams around the AAF have expressed the same sentiment: that Salt Lake City is a tougher team than a single win would indicate. The excitement of Week 5's final quarter was a reflection of that, as is the tough schedule SLC has played so far. Five points is all that separates this team from being 3-2 instead of 1-4. The margins have been razor thin. Maybe the Stallions will finish stronger in the back stretch of the season -- this team is good enough to make the playoffs -- but the room for error is starting to shrink.
Player of the Week: Kam Kelly, CB, San Diego Fleet
Kelly had not one, not two, but three interceptions against the Stallions, including a pick-six in the fourth quarter. The first two interceptions were poor balls by Stallions quarterback Josh Woodrum, but they were valuable all the same as Salt Lake City was putting together potential scoring drives. The third pick was a perfectly timed break on the ball that went the other way for six. Here are all three for your viewing pleasure.
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