"In big games, you can look at one column, the turnover column, and we didn't win it tonight," Soul coach Bret Munsey said. "But I'm not here to blame one person. We're 4-1. We got a great football team. We fought hard, but at the end of the day, you can't turn the ball over."
The first miscue came from Sean Scott early in the second quarter. Georgia (5-1) and the Soul had traded punches to the tune of a 21-14 Force lead when Scott laid the ball on the ground on a reverse. It took two plays for gritty Georgia quarterback Chris Greisen to find Chris Jackson with a 7-yard touchdown and a two-possession lead.
Georgia's wide receivers, particularly Jackson and Troy Bergeron, had the Soul's defense on its heels throughout. Jackson had 124 receiving yards and two touchdowns while Bergeron had 182 yards and four touchdowns.
Bergeron's final touchdown provided the game's most unusual play. On a fourth and 1 from the Georgia 11, Greisen found Bergeron on a deep sideline route. Bergeron broke free from Eddie Moten, but fumbled the ball first off the side wall at about the 2-yard line and then off the back wall and through the end zone where Bergeron picked it up harmlessly.
The masses, including owner Jon Bon Jovi, were expecting the play to be ruled a touchback. Instead, it was called a touchdown. The place went nuts.
"It was definitely a catch," Bergeron said. "No doubt in my mind."
Boos rained down as the zebras huddled to untangle the play. ESPN2 cut away to the owner's box where Bon Jovi, unaware he was on, disgustedly put up a pair of middle fingers.
Thing is, the play was ruled correctly. Bergeron is allowed to recover his own fumble.
After the game, Bon Jovi hustled down to the locker area to offer his apologies to the Atlanta people, particularly the owner, Arthur Blank.
"I didn't understand the ruling and [ESPN2 announcer Mike Greenberg] straightened it out for me after I flipped the bird," Bon Jovi said. "He did have possession, he did recover the ball. I reacted to something I didn't know the ruling of. The Georgia Force are a class act. I apologize for the middle finger thing. I didn't understand the rule. Simple as that. We'll be back next week."
If the Soul was as fortunate as Georgia was on the Bergeron play, it might be headed to Dallas (6-0) for a showdown of the league's only undefeated teams.
Philadelphia started the third quarter with a decent drive that looked to be finished when fullback Wes Ours busted over the goal line with a 2-yard run.
Not so fast. Jarrick Hillery, who had recovered the Scott fumble, knocked the ball loose from Ours and Willie Gary pounced on it. Instead of a tie score, the Soul was down 42-28 and chasing the game.
The Soul was missing Larry Brackins and it clearly affected its vertical passing game. Tony Graziani was able to complete 22 passes (for 266 yards and three touchdowns), but many of them were on quick sideline routes. Instead of hitting home runs like the Soul had in the first four games, Graziani moved the ball 6 to 8 yards at a time.
"They played deep. We had to go short and stay patient," Graziani said. "But it was all about the turnovers today. You play a good team like Georgia and that's the bottom line." *