On Monday night, the Houston Roughnecks fell to the DC Defenders 37-26, making it their second loss in a row after initially winning four straight games to start the season. DC has made it known that they are the team to beat, and for the Roughnecks, it proved to be somewhat of a mismatch. Even though Houston is now 4-2, they still have control over the South division, so the loss didn’t hurt their playoff hopes in any way. Next week, the team will finally return home after three weeks on the road and face St. Louis, but more to come on that in the preview article.
Top Performers (Offense)
Cole McDonald, QB, Hawai’i
McDonald was finally able to log some true playing time against the Defenders, after Brandon Silvers had effectively been benched in the third quarter. As I’ve mentioned in the past, McDonald has appeared in several plays this year as a runner, but his opportunities to put together drives and throw the ball have been limited.
Although his play wasn’t enough to get the Roughnecks a win, he gave the offense a much needed boost after they seemingly stalled following the first quarter. He finished the game completing 8 of 11 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown. He also added 6 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground. While it’s too early to say McDonald earned the starting quarterback job for week 7, he certainly made a convincing case, and should see an uptick in playing time regardless.
Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Burnett stepped up in notable fashion on Monday night, catching 4 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown reception, which came on an 85-yard strike from Cole McDonald down the sideline, was the longest play of the XFL season. The previous record was held by Charleston Rambo of the Guardians, who had an 81-yard score against Houston in week 4.
Max Borghi, RB, Washington State
Although he only averaged 2.3 yards per carry on 11 attempts, Max Borghi found the endzone twice, and is now tied with Abram Smith for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (5). Hopefully, Borghi will be able to accumulate more yardage over the next four games, as he currently ranks 10th in the league in that category.
Top Performers (Defense)
Emmanuel Ellerbee, LB, Rice
Ellerbee once again led the Roughnecks in tackles (11), and was the only defensive player on either team to reach double-digits. Eight of those tackles were solo, and he also added a tackle for loss on top of it. Ellerbee continues to be one of the better linebackers in the league, and is almost guaranteed to finish within the top five for tackles this season.
AJ Hendy, S, Maryland
With star safety Sean Davis out, Hendy was called to fill in, and recorded the second-most tackles on the team (7). What was most impressive about Hendy’s performance, however, was his two stops at the goal line on two separate drives. The veteran has quietly produced well this season (18 total tackles), but week six gave Hendy a chance to show everyone he truly has some gas left in the tank.
Glen Logan, DT, LSU
Logan recorded his first sack of the season against the Defenders, and also had 4 total tackles with a tackle for loss. Logan has also been pretty quiet through six weeks, but is still bolstering a defensive line who was missing Tim Ward for the game.
Travell Harris, WR, Washington State (5 catches, 60 yards)
Kary Vincent Jr, CB, LSU (2 tackles, 2 pass deflections)
Thoughts & Notes
Although it was unknown to the public prior to the game, and by that I mean not on the injury report, the Roughnecks had to play against DC without three of their starting players (OT Sage Doxtater, SAF Sean Davis, EDGE Tim Ward). As it turned out, Houston would severely miss all three of them. The Roughnecks had everything under control for the first 28 minutes of the game, but once the clock stopped due to the two-minute warning before halftime, all hell broke loose.
After going up 8-0, the Roughnecks gave up 26 unanswered points before the long Deontay Burnett touchdown would give Houston some hope. Perhaps the most worrisome part of the game was the team’s sudden lack of discipline, especially on the defensive side. One of the more interesting (and to some entertaining) moments came when cornerback Ajene Harris was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after “squirting the referee with water.” Obviously, emotions get tense as the game slips away, but it was extremely uncharacteristic and a visible example of frustration.
One of the few bright spots turned out to be Cole McDonald, which was rather surprising. Silvers struggled against Seattle, but was still able to finish the game. However, once he threw a pick-six before half in DC, the leash seemed to become a lot shorter. There is no doubt regarding McDonald’s talent, which I alluded to before the season even started, and he still surpassed expectations against the best team in the league.
While there are certainly some questions to ask as Houston returns home, the Defenders were going to pose challenges regardless of how the Roughnecks played. Many viewed it as the game of the year in the XFL, and while it didn’t live up to all the hype, it wasn’t a complete disaster for the losing team. Rather, it was DC asserting their dominance and demonstrating new parts of their game plan that hadn’t been seen before (i.e. more effective pass plays).
All in all, the Roughnecks are still in a great position, and while losing back-to-back games could put an end to a season for some, Houston has the luxury of being able to afford a few mishaps. However, there is now more pressure to win against the BattleHawks, who are also one of the stronger teams in the North. As long as the Roughnecks follow a “one game at a time” approach, moving forward and not getting caught up in their own mistakes, there’s a good chance they will string together several wins again.
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