Costly turnover late leads to another loss for the Express

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ATLANTA — In a battle of teams looking to keep up in the Eastern Conference, the Memphis Express fell short against the Atlanta Legends on Sunday losing 23-20 to fall to 1-4 on the season.

Legends kicker Younghoe Koo’s 35-yard field goal with nine seconds to play was the difference, breaking the hearts of Express coaches and players.

The Memphis Express return home on Sunday, March 24, to face the Birmingham Iron. The game starts at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. local) and will be broadcast on NFL Network. Get tickets here.

With the game tied 20-20, the Express appeared headed toward taking the lead late in the fourth quarter. But quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s pass on third and 6 from the Atlanta 21-yard line was tipped and intercepted by Legends defensive back Tyson Graham Jr. at the Atlanta 12 and returned 14 yards with 3:22 left in the game.

“It was really not a great day,” Mettenberger said after going 9 of 17 for 181 yards and the interception. “We were moving along like we were going for the game-winning drive. It was third and 6. They got immediate pressure up the middle and I made a poor pass in field-goal range. It was a poor play by me.”

“He’s going to think about that one a lot and it’s unfortunate,” head coach Mike Singletary said about the interception by his quarterback. “On his last play of the day, it’s a tough one.”

The Legends (2-3) drove 57 yards on nine plays to set up Koo’s winner.

“It was another tough game that we came out on the losing end of,” Singletary said. “Atlanta had a great game plan coming into the day and I have to give them credit.”

The biggest difference in the game was time of possession, as Atlanta had the ball for nearly 39 minutes. Part of that could be traced to third-down effectiveness, as the Express converted only one of nine third-down plays while Atlanta was 10 of 18.

The Legends also dominated possession with long drives, as five of the Legends’ 11 drives lasted at least nine plays — including scoring drives of 12, 13 and 13 plays for their first three scores.

A reoccurring theme for the Express was failing to get off the field when it mattered most, and it haunted them in the end.

“These tough losses wear on everybody, but that’s what’s great about the game,” Singletary said. “You keep finding a way and a reason to come back the next week. We’ll lick wounds and come back next week.”

Explosive plays, particularly by Mettenberger and running back Zac Stacy, kept the Express in the game. Ultimately, however, the Legends had nearly 200 more yards than the Express (410-217) and ground out possessions to win the game.

“We just have to get some continuity going. It seems we’re just one guy away on offense and that’s not good enough,” Mettenberger said.

Stacy led the Express in rushing (41 yards) and receiving (45 yards) and scored two rushing touchdowns. The back said attention to detail cost the Express in the end.

“We have to find ways to emphasize execution down the stretch in games,” Stacy said. “One small step here and one small step there can cost us a game.”

Linebackers DeMarquis Gates and Drew Jackson continued their stellar play this season. Gates, an Atlanta native, finished with eight total tackles, including one for a loss, and one fumble recovery. Jackson led the Express with 11 total tackles. Defensive end Corey Vereen got the start at defensive end with Anthony Johnson out and finished with three tackles, including two sacks.

After another close loss, the players know they have one half left in the season and plenty to play for. The fight is still there with a long road trip to Salt Lake next Saturday to start the season’s second half.

“I have no doubt in my mind we can turn this thing around,” Stacy said. “It’ll take everybody collectively as a group to get the job done week in and week out, but we can get the job done.”

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