It took the Tampa Bay Vipers 140 minutes and 49 seconds of the new XFL season to finally score their first offensive touchdown. It took just nine minutes and 11 seconds for them to score their second. Yet, it wasn’t enough to stave off the red-hot Houston Roughnecks in Tampa’s home opener.
The Vipers were downed 34-27 in front of 18,117 at Raymond James Stadium, a number that bested many analysts’ expectations. It was Quinton Flowers who scored that first offensive TD, on a seven-yard keeper. Combined with Jalen Tolliver’s one-point conversion, it put the Vipers on top 10-9 in the second quarter.
Just prior to halftime, the home offense found the end zone a second time, this time on another QB run, this time with Taylor Cornelius at the helm. Cornelius started again over the injured Aaron Murray, who is expected to return next week. Cornelius was 16-31 passing for 193 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. “I felt really good today,” said Cornelius, when asked about the added reps he took at practice this week. “Moving forward, we’re in a better spot offensively and we feel good about the game plan.”
In preparation for this game, head coach Marc Trestman ceded play calling duties to offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo. “I thought if I could get out of the weeds a little bit and step back with the team, I thought that could help the team in a number of different ways,” said Trestman about the change. Through the first two games, the Vipers had largely been able to move the ball down the field, but had struggled in the red zone. The offense was more successful there on Saturday (2 for 3), but stalled on the one yard-line in the fourth quarter with a chance to come within a one-point conversion of tying the game.
A major storyline, for the second week in a row, was the QB rotation. Cornelius started and played on the first two drives. Flowers took over for drives three, four, and five. It was Cornelius who took the final drive before half, as Trestman noted on the broadcast that he liked the way Cornelius performed during the 2:00 drill before the end of the game last week.
In the second half, it was all Cornelius, despite the protestations of the home crowd. They wanted the hometown hero, Flowers, who played his college home games at Raymond James Stadium. Trestman’s decision to go with Cornelius the entirety of the final half will be debated, notably when the Vipers had it 1st-and-goal inside the five and were unable to cash in late in the game. Flowers’ versatility could’ve put the Roughnecks on their heels. “I think it’s a valid question,” said Trestman when asked about not going to Flowers in that situation. “We decided to stick with the plan and keep Taylor in there.”
Houston put the game away for good with 10:24 left in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay had two drives after that in the fourth, the one that stalled at the one yard-line, and another, their last, resulting in a Cornelius interception in Houston territory.
The game was a seesaw affair and was one of the best games in the XFL this season. The lead changed hands or the score was tied six times. Houston’s P.J. Walker, an early MVP candidate, appeared as advertised. He was 24-36 passing for 306 yards and three touchdowns. Last week’s XFL Star of the Week, WR Cam Phillips, torched Tampa’s secondary to the tune of eight receptions for 194 yards and three touchdowns.
“…(W)e’ve got a sick locker room in there, a lot of guys worked their tails off today,” said Trestman. “I know we got better this week, but it wasn’t good enough.”
The Vipers host the 2-0 (pending Sunday’s result) D.C. Defenders next Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Kickoff will be at 7pm EST and will air on ESPN2.
Game Notes: Tampa’s inactive list this week was filled with injured players. QB Aaron Murray, CB Jalen Collins, DT Ricky Walker, and TE Nick Truesdell all appeared on the injury report leading up to Saturday’s game. The only two healthy inactives were LB Anthony Stubbs and WR S.J. Green, a recent acquisition from the Seattle Dragons…Tampa Bay has exceeded the 100-yard rushing mark as a team in all three games this season…A couple more firsts in team history were achieved, including first rushing touchdown (Flowers) and first passing/receiving touchdown (Cornelius to WR Dan Williams).
Greg Parks is a columnist for Pro Wrestling Torch (pwtorch.com). He covers the XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers for XFLBoard.com. He has written extensively about the XFL. He resides in Naples, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks.