Over 17,000 people came out to watch the Tampa Bay Vipers and New York Guardians open their respective seasons at Metlife stadium on the second day of the new XFL’s season. The game promised to be one to remember for all those in attendance.
The Guardians elected to take the ball first, as the home team elects to receive or defer, and had a terrific drive ending in a Matt McGloin quarterback sneak for a touchdown. The key play on the drive was a 4th and 4 conversion to Tight End Jake Powell, an NJ native getting to play in front of many fans.
The Vipers were able to respond by moving the ball over 4 minutes deep into Guardians’ territory only to have Aaron Murray get intercepted in the end zone by Andrew Soroh. Murray mostly struggled with his accuracy after this and the Vipers offense was frustrated over and over again. The first quarter went very quickly with both teams only possessing the ball 2 times.
The second quarter started with a bang for the Guardians. After receiving a punt, McGloin would hit Mekale McKay on a 45-yard bomb, setting up a 12-yard touchdown pass to the former BYU Cougar, Colby Pearson. Cook would convert on the 2 yard run for the second time in the game making it 14-0 Guardians.
The Vipers would once again get into Guardian territory when Murray hit Jalen Tolliver for 44 yards, but the Vipers failed to gain more ground and stalled at the New York 32. Andrew Franks would attempt a 50-yard field goal but would miss wide left. From this point on the teams battled in the middle of the field until Matt McCrane hit a 49-yard field goal for New York as time expired in the first half, sending them into the locker room up 17-0.
The third quarter saw the Vipers change tactics and tried to run the ball more, featuring a good amount of Run-Pass Options and using more of Quinton Flowers in the QB role. The Vipers really dominated the time of possession in the 3rd quarter. With the Guardians only getting 8 total offensive plays. However, the Vipers were only able to show 3 points for their effort as they could not punch anything into the end zone.
The 4th quarter started with the Guardians getting a single first down before having to punt. However, on Tampa Bay’s first play of the quarter, Murray would complete a pass to Nick Truesdale, only to see him stripped and have Jamar Summers scoop and score a touchdown, which was allowed to stand after a review.
This pushed the score to 23-3 after a failed 1 point run by Cook. The Guardians remained anemic on offense the rest of the game, not even getting another first down, Tampa Bay would 2 times get inside the New York 10 in the final five minutes of the game, but both times would end up with no points to show for it as sacks and penalties doomed both drives. The game ended with the Guardians winning 23-3 to the delight of the home crowd.
For the Vipers the QB situation can be an issue, the team looked more effective with Flowers running the RPO offense than they did with Murray. However, Flowers only threw the ball 2 times and in the end, did not produce points. Murray was out of sorts all game going 16-34 with no TDS and 2 interceptions. Just like in the AAF, the key interception was thrown killing a would-be scoring drive in the end zone.
Daniel Williams was terrific with 6 receptions for 123 yards. The RPO and running game went well for the Vipers who ran for 150 yards. The Vipers were totally dominant in all offensive statistics, however, they were 0 for 4 in goal to go situations and turned the ball over 3 times (one resulted in a defensive TD from the Guardians).
The Vipers may need to work more on their red zone offense going forward and avoiding costly turnovers. They travel to Seattle to play another 0-1 team that had the same issues regarding turnovers allowing defensive points to bite them next week. The winner will likely be the team that improves on these mistakes.
McGloin was efficient, if not totally effective. Going 15-29 for 182 yards 1 TD pass and 1 TD run, Importantly, he threw no interceptions. The Guardians running game needs improvement, The big running backs and big line could only muster 44 rushing yards all game (and 2 of these were McGloin on the TD). The Guardians clearly need to improve on this. It is astonishing that the running backs only carried the ball 13 times total, and a couple of those were in the waning moments of the game, to use up the clock.
The Defense was outstanding, No touchdowns allowed, forcing 3 turnovers and scoring a touchdown themselves to outscore the Viper offense. They also had 5 sacks, Wes Sutton had 2 of them, they had 8 total QB hits compared to the Vipers 2. It is hard to imagine the defense playing better, It will be fascinating to see how they stack up with what appears to be a more potent DC Defender offense on the road.