The long awaited XFL (version 2) finally began its initial season this past weekend, and throughout the 4 games played there is some cause for optimism. This is not like the original XFL, which almost seemed like the WWE on a football field, this seemed almost like real NFL football.
Sure, you didn’t hardly know any of the players, and the team names are kind of funny, but after you got passed that it was almost like watching the same football we have been watching for the last 4 months! Ok, maybe we shouldn’t go that far, but it was still enjoyable, and the changes the XFL has made were definitely interesting.
Although the new after touchdown extra points really didn’t affect the outcome or strategy of the games, you could see where it could become interesting when a team can score 9 points on a single drive. There were no kickoff returns for touchdowns, but there were kickoff returns, and quite a few that put the offense in good position to start off the drive.
With a promising start to the new season, with 3 of the 4 games drawing more viewers than any NBA or college basketball game from the previous week, it will be interesting to see if the XFL can sustain the momentum going forward. All 4 games had more than 17,000 in attendance, and although that will not be bringing the big stars to the new league anytime soon, it is an encouraging sign, since the Alliance of American Football that folded 8 games into its inaugural season last year averaged only 15,293,although the San Antonio Commanders averaged over 27,000 in its 4 home games.
DC Defenders 31, Seattle Dragons 19
The first game of the season took place in Washington D.C. at Audi field, which is the home to the MLS DC United. The Defenders needed a last second field goal in the first half to lead 13-12 at the break, but warmed up in the second half.
Cardale Jones led the Defenders, yes, the same Cardale Jones who led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a national championship in 2014 while starting the season as the third string QB, behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Jones finished with 235 yards in 16 of 26 passing with 2 touchdowns and a 116.7 passer rating. He also completed passes to 8 different players, led by Eli Rogers who caught all 6 of his targets for 73 yards.
Neither team really got much going in the running game, with Kenneth Farrow of the Dragons leading the day for both teams with 41 yards. Austin Proehl, son of former NFL wide receiver Ricky Proehl, was the lone bright spot for the Dragons, catching 5 passes for 88 yards, with 2 of them going for touchdowns. Brandon Silvers, the quarterback for Seattle, struggled, throwing 2 interceptions to go with his 3 touchdowns.
With an attendance figure of 17,163 in a stadium that holds 20,000, there was definitely a good energy in the stadium for the XFL’s first game.
Houston Roughnecks 37, Los Angeles Wildcats 17
In the highest scoring game of the weekend, the Roughnecks started off slow, trailing the Wildcats 17-12 before scoring 25 straight points to take their inaugural game. Quarterback P.J. Walker led the way, throwing for 272 yards and 4 touchdowns, with only 1 interception.
Once again there wasn’t much of a running game from either team, although Walker did get the running backs into the game through the passing game, as well as completing passes to 8 different receivers.
Nelson Spruce had a good game for the Wildcats, catching 11 passes for 103 yards. The two teams went for the 2 point option often, converting 3 of the 6 combined attempts, which take place from the 5-yard line after a touchdown is scored.
The attendance was 17,815 for the game, which was the highest of the weekend. The game was played at TDECU Stadium, which is the home of the University of Houston football team.
New York Guardians 23, Tampa Bay Vipers 3
The only game that really was not competitive over the weekend, the Guardians controlled the entire game, leading 17-0 by the half and coasting to a 23-3 victory at MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL New York Giants and Jets. With attendance coming in at 17,634, it did seem a little different in a larger stadium even though the attendance figures were in line with the other games of the weekend.
The Guardians did give their fans something to cheer about, especially on defense. They had 5 sacks, 2 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery that led to a touchdown that put the game away. Matt Mcgloin didn’t do anything special, but was serviceable, throwing for 182 yards and a touchdown while not having any turnovers.
Aaron Murray, who had a spectacular career at the University of Georgia, had a very rough game, completing less than 50% of his passes and those 2 interceptions and no touchdowns. Daniel Williams showed promise, catching 6 passes for 123 yards, and backup quarterback Quinton Flowers excited the crowd when entering the game, although only with his feet as he only attempted 2 passes and had 1 completion, although it was for 37 yards and got the Vipers into the red zone.
Unfortunately, head coach Marc Trestman continued to struggle with American Football. Although extremely successful in the Candian Football League, leading the Toronto Argonauts to 3 consecutive Grey Cup appearances from 2007 to 2009, winning the last two of them.
After an extremely disappointing stretch as head coach of the Chicago Bears, Trestman returned to the CFL, winning yet another Grey Cup title with the Argonauts in the 2017 season. The following season though his team did not have much success, winning only 4 games and failing to make the playoffs, making that the first time to have occurred in his CFL career. Regardless, Trestman was fired after the season, setting up his opportunity to join the Tampa Bay Vipers this year.
Trestman will probably be watched even more closely than other coaches, given his recent failures, so I look for him to not sit idly by as his team struggles.
St Louis Battlehawks 15, Dallas Renegades 9
In a close defensive minded game, the Battlehawks held off the home Renegades 15-9. In a game played at the old Texas Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the 17,206 fans had much to cheer for until Battlehawks quarterback Jordan Ta’amu took over the game in the second half, with both his arm and his legs.
Ta’amu struggled to get through the Dallas defense in the first half, with the game tied at 6-6 at the break, but broke out in the second half, finishing with 207 yards passing and a touchdown with a 74% completion percentage, while accumulating 77 yards on 9 rushes as well.
With the Renegades defense trying to focus on Ta’amu, it opened up rushing lanes for running back Matt Jones who finished with 85 yards on 21 attempts. The team finished with 191 yards rushing, which was by far the most of the opening weekend.
The Renegades held in the game though, and with starting quarterback Landry Jones due to come back next week, we should get a real look at the team that is favored to win the championship then. Austin MacGinnis, the Renegades kicker, did look good, making all three of his field goal attempts, from 32, 42 and 23 yards.
XFL commissioner Oliver Luck (Andrew Luck’s father) promised us a good product on the field this time around, and through the first weekend I have to say he was right. While this league will probably never reach the heights the NFL enjoys, there is a possibility that the XFL is able to do what no other major league has been able to do since the USFL in the early 1980s’, and make it to a second season.
This weekend will tell a lot whether this will be a reality or just a dream, both the AAF last year and the XFL the first time around lost about 50% of its viewers from the first weekend. This time seems different though, but only time will tell.