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No reason to panic after Rattlers fall to Outlaws

Matt Loeschman
Wednesday April 8, 2015

The Arizona Rattlers' latest trip to Las Vegas came up snake eyes.

After a few years of being on the right side of history, Arizona made some of the wrong kind last weekend with a 70-53 loss to the expansion Las Vegas Outlaws.

Las Vegas claimed its first-ever franchise win at the expense of the three-time defending ArenaBowl champions. Was the outcome disappointing? Definitely. Embarrassing? Possibly. Reason to push the panic button? No way.

Before we start “Chicken Little-ing” this game and pulling out stats about how defending champions who have lost to expansion teams usually don't even win in the playoffs, there are many key factors to keep in mind.

This Rattlers team is currently missing many key players that have been instrumental to their recent success. You don't just take away a Rod Windsor, Kerry Reed, Maurice Purify, Marquis Floyd and Michael Huey and expect everything to remain the same. These are All-Arena caliber players, and their absence is glaring.

Windsor and Reed were expected to play at Las Vegas but did not. Floyd was a late scratch. Huey has signed a contract with the San Diego Chargers as he continues to pursue his NFL dream. Quarterback Nick Davila is still getting used to throwing to Markee White, Jared Perry and Chase Deadder. The timing is not completely there and it shows.

Purify, another key target, is out until at least July as he rehabs from injury.

Without Huey holding down the offensive line, Davila has been feeling the heat. He was sacked in both games to start the 2015 season, and the Rattlers surrendered a safety in the season opener against the Spokane Shock.

Special teams may indeed be a reason to panic.

Jeremy Shelley has been lackluster as the Rattlers' new kicker. Following a decent showing against the Shock, he missed an extra point and two very makeable field goals against Las Vegas. Worse than that, Arizona's coverage completely broke down on both misses, allowing the Outlaws to become the first team in league history to return two field goal misses for touchdowns in the same game.

Shelley is just 11-for-15 on extra points and 2-for-4 on field goals through two weeks. I would have been on the phone right after the game calling one of the other 13 guys who tried out to be the Rattlers' kicker during training camp.

On the positive side, kick returner and new arrival A.J. Cruz was stellar, returning one kickoff for a touchdown with another potential score erased by penalty.

The officiating did not help matters against the Outlaws. Anttaj Hawthorne looked like he was on an episode of WWE Monday Night Raw the way he was being held — or choked — as he attempted to rush the quarterback. I halfway expected him to take a steel chair shot to the back before the night was over. Las Vegas was not flagged all night for offensive holding. On Davila's lone interception with the game still hanging in the balance, an Outlaws defender was clearly in the neutral zone as the ball was snapped. Davila even motioned over to that side after the play was over. No call.

Take nothing away from the Outlaws. They came out prepared – much more prepared than in their Week 1 debacle against San Jose – and took advantage of every Arizona miscue. Head Coach Aaron Garcia had his team ready to play while many times it looked like the Rattlers were just going through the motions.

It also looked like Outlaws owner Vince Neil was enjoying his team's first-ever win. Whether he remembered it later is anyone's guess.

Major props to the huge group of fans from Rattler Nation who made the trip to Sin City to cheer on their team. They were as disappointed as the rest of us with the outcome, but some of the social media comments following the game bordered on the absurd.

Remember, it is just one game. One game out of 18 in the regular season. As Aaron Rodgers, a star in that “other” big football league would say, “Relax.”

A trip to Cleveland is next on the schedule with the Gladiators hungry for revenge after the Rattlers embarrassed them in the ArenaBowl last season.

In Kevin Guy we trust. Expect a much better effort from Arizona in Week 3.

Matt Loeschman is the business editor/city reporter at the Williamson County Sun and a color commentator for SHN Sports in Georgetown, Texas. As a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he bleeds burnt orange but is also an avid fan of the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Stars, Texas Stars, Houston Rockets, Houston Dynamo and Austin Aztex. With nearly 20 years of experience in print journalism and radio, Matt has covered sports ranging from high school to the pros along with local news. He has followed the AFL since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter @MattLoeschman.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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