With the regular season behind them and their 11-game winning streak history, the Talons have set their sights this week on what they've been playing for since their first game more than four months ago: the playoffs.
"It's time to refocus because nobody is going to give you anything," Coach Lee Johnson told his players Tuesday after practice. "You can't wait for things to happen. You've got to take it."
The Talons (14-4) play the Utah Blaze (12-6) in the first round of the Arena Football League playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at the Alamodome. The game will be televised by the NFL Network.
"We've got a real big fight on our hands," Johnson said. "We have to go to a different level. I understand this. I've been through it before. Every time that we've gotten to this spot, we've talked about getting to a different level. You've got to raise the level."
Standout cornerback Fred Shaw expressed confidence the Talons will do that when they play Utah.
"Everybody on our team understands what's at stake," Shaw said. "You lose, you go home. We're definitely not trying to do that. We're going to give it all we've got this week. Utah is going to pull out all their tricks Friday, but we've just got to be prepared to play ball like we do."
San Antonio, which won the Central Division, clinched the No. 1 seed in the National Conference and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs by beating Arizona on July 13. The Talons' winning streak ended with a 66-63 road loss to the Iowa Barnstormers in their regular-season finale Saturday night.
Talons are 2-0 against Blaze this season
While defeat is never easy to accept, Johnson saw the silver lining in the loss to Iowa.
"I actually think it's going to help us out because the guys are upset," Johnson said. "They know that if this happens this week, it's over with. The whole 11-game winning streak and all this other stuff is for naught."
The Talons are 2-0 against Utah this season, but both games were close. San Antonio won the teams' season opener March 10 at the Alamodome, and eked out a 64-61 victory May 26 in Salt Lake City.
Seeded No. 4 in the National Conference, the Blaze ended the regular season with a 69-34 loss to Eastern Division champion Philadelphia, which had the best record (15-3) in the AFL.
"We're approaching the game the same way we approached it before," Johnson said, discussing the matchup with Utah. "We see what they do. They're a well-coached team. Coach (Ron) James has got those guys going really well. We've got to do the things that we do: Be physical, fly around, knock guys around and be consistent in our techniques.
"We should be fine. Again, protecting the football is going to be huge because the games that we've played against them have been very tight, especially the last one up there. We were very fortunate. We got one off the bar and had a couple of turnovers, but we were able to overcome those."
The Talons, who moved to San Antonio from Tulsa, Okla., last September, split their first six games before setting sail on their 11-game winning streak.
Blaze quarterback has thrown 142 TD passes this season
Talons quarterback Aaron Garcia called the loss to Iowa a "reality check" heading into the playoffs.
"We hadn't felt that feeling in a long time," he said. "I don't care if it was Iowa or how much it counted in the grand scheme of things. You looked around that locker room after the game and guys were upset at themselves, probably at each other a little bit. We should have still gone in there and won the game, no matter what.
"If we come out anytime in the next three weeks and play like that again, then it's over. Nobody wants that, so we're trying to come out and have a good week of practice. There's that fine line between being intense and getting your body back at this point in the season, but we've got to find it."
Utah is led by prolific quarterback Tommy Grady, who completed 507 of 743 passes for 5,870 yards and 142 touchdowns in the regular season.
The Blaze have three receivers with more than 1,000 yards in reception yardage --- Aaron Lesue (155 catches, 1,810 yards), Tysson Poots (108/1,167) and Alvance Robinson (74/1,015).
"Right now, they've probably got the best quarterback in the league," Garcia said. "He's been getting better and better each and every year, and he's made that franchise better each year. So we've got a huge test in front of us.
"Defensively, we've got to step up. And offensively, we've got to make sure we score a lot of points. We've just got to come in focused and do what we do, right out of the gate."
The National Conference and American Conference champions meet in the AFL's title game, ArenaBowl XXV, on Aug. 10 in New Orleans.
Arena Football League Playoff Schedule
National Conference Quarterfinals
Utah Blaze (12-6) at San Antonio Talons (14-4), 7 p.m., Friday
San Jose SaberCats (12-6) at Arizona Rattlers (13-5), 9 p.m., Saturday
American Conference Quarterfinals
New Orleans VooDoo (8-10) at Philadelphia Soul (15-3), 6:05 p.m., Saturday
Georgia Force (9-9) at Jacksonville Sharks (10-8), 6 p.m., Saturday
Note: The National Conference and American Conference champions play in the AFL's championship game, Arena Bowl XXV, on Aug. 10 in New Orleans.