In a way, it was the perfect scenario. A team attempting to rebound from an ugly loss the week previous and prove to its critics that it was stout. Another team, fielding its understudy quarterback, who entered as the only club without a win to its name.
But at a point, underneath the lights at Raymond James Stadium Sunday night, it became predictable. Obvious, even. The Tampa Bay Vipers (1-3, 1-1 in East Division) were going to grant the ball to DeVeon Smith or Jacques Patrick and dare the weary D.C. Defenders (2-2, 1-1) to stuff them. The hosts’ daunting ground offense, paired with the inability of Pep Hamilton’s offense to drive the ball, contributed to the Snakes’ 25-0 victory.
The stats for the Defender offense looked as if someone had popped a certain football video game into their game console and set the game’s quarters to their shortest length. The attack gained 107 net yards on a total of 39 snaps, both being the least of any club in a single game through four weeks. The Vipers, however, scored on each of their first three drives.
Again, Cardale Jones had a difficult go of it. The quarterback, who led the league in passing through its first two weeks, threw for only 72 yards on nine completions. At home, Jones had thrown for 499 yards, nearly three times what the he passed for against L.A. and Tampa.
All night, Tampa Bay hurried the Defenders’ off their field. D.C. went three-and-out four times. Another drive ended on an interception on its third play. Only one time did Jones and company venture into Viper territory, a blocked field goal ultimately keeping them off the scoreboard. That particular drive happened to be to the only one of the Defenders’ which lasted greater than six plays.
Meanwhile, the Vipers, quarterbacked by former Oklahoma State Cowboy Taylor Cornelius, picked up more first downs (11) in its initial two possessions than did D.C. (8) the entire contest. All said, Tampa Bay enjoyed 29 first downs, the most of any team in a game this year.
The Defenders’ defense was on the field for 80 plays, more than all but the St. Louis BattleHawks against the Houston Roughnecks in Week One.
Cornelius completed 24 of 31 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown. He added a touchdown on the ground, sprinting right 17 yards on a third-and-four before being crunched by the Defenders’ Desmond Lawrence at the goal-line.
Jacques Patrick and DeVeon Smith became the first duo to each surpass the century mark on the ground. Patrick, a former Florida State Seminole, scored his first professional touchdown in the first quarter and ended the contest with 21 carries and 108 yards. Smith took 24 gives for 122 yards.
D.C. ran for a season-low 46 yards, most of which were credited to Donnel Pumphery (34 yards, 7 attempts.)
Punter Hunter Niswander averaged 46 yards on his seven punts.
“We have to get back to D.C. and fix this together,” D.C. head coach Pep Hamilton said after the game. “I have to evaluate what we’re doing when we play outside of D.C. There’s no excuse for it. We’ve got to play better football on the road.”
After a two-week span in which the Defenders were about as successful on the road as a deer on crutches, the team will return to Audi Field Sunday for a matchup with the East-leading St. Louis BattleHawks.
Brendan is a junior journalism major at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Along with contributing to XFLBoard.com, he serves as the Assistant Campus Life Editor and has written over 100 stories for his school’s award-winning student publication, The Rocket. He has also contributed to the newspaper’s sports section for what will be six semesters; covering games, writing game previews and recaps, and features.