Taylor Heinicke overshadowed in first Falcons start, and other XFL performances in NFL week nine

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) looks to throw a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Atlanta.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) looks to throw a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)


The workout circuit began earlier in the week than usual for former XFL players. On Monday, DE Elorm Lumor (Battlehawks) tried out for the Atlanta Falcons, a team notorious for eyeing secondary league talent. This was Lumor’s fourth workout post-XFL 2023, and his second workout with the Falcons (the first coming on August 15).

Tuesday saw the New York Jets bring in XFL players DT Bruce Hector (Renegades) and C Michal Menet (Sea Dragons). Hector starred for the Jets in the preseason but at the time, New York was simply too deep along the defensive line for him to have a chance. This was Hector’s third in-season workout and fourth overall.

Menet’s meeting with the Jets was the second time he worked out for a team during the season and his fifth overall. He was a part of a four-man group of interior offensive linemen who worked out for New York on Tuesday, with the Jets eventually signing veteran G Rodger Saffold to the practice squad.


In my week eight write-up, I noted the late-game injury to LS Scott Daly (Guardians) that occurred on Monday Night Football. The Detroit Lions wasted little time in placing him on injured reserve, doing so on Tuesday with what was labeled as a knee injury. Though the Lions had a bye in week nine, they already signed Daly’s replacement in Jake McQuaide. McQuaide has familiarity with the Lions, as he was Daly’s competition briefly in training camp.

There was thought that Daly’s job could be in jeopardy this summer, but he retained his position for another year. Lions Head Coach Dan Campbell praised Daly in the aftermath of the injury, saying “He’s been just a steady rock for us and he’s improved every year. He was having the best year he’s had…he’s been really good for us.”

The ups and downs of the NFL were exemplified by DT LaCale London (Battlehawks) this past week. London toiled on the practice squad of the Atlanta Falcons for much of the first half of the season. He was then signed to the active roster, only to suffer an injury in his first game as a member of the 53-man. London was placed on injured reserve on Wednesday. There’s no word as to the severity of the injury and whether it is a season-ender. By being placed on injured reserve, London is out for at least the next four weeks.

The chain of events that led to DT Bruce Hector (Renegades) signing with the Jets on Wednesday began when DT Al Woods was placed on injured reserve. Needing another body at the position, the team promoted DT Tanzel Smart from the practice squad to the active roster. That opened up a spot along the defensive line on the practice squad, and the Jets filled it with the signing of Hector.


*In his third week as Pittsburgh’s primary kick returner, RB Godwin Igwebuike (Dragons) returned two kicks for 42 yards (21.0 average) with a long return of 23 yards. He once again played solely on special teams, totaling nine snaps in all. Aside from kick returns, Igwebuike has also performed on the punt return team as a blocker, and on kickoff coverage.

*The last XFL-to-NFL long snapper healthy, LS Christian Kuntz (Renegades) snapped on all punts and kicks for the Steelers on Thursday night.

*In Germany, S Elijah Campbell (Defenders) played 92% of the special teams snaps for the Miami Dolphins. Despite an injury to starting safety Brandon Jones that rendered him inactive, Campbell did not play on defense. He made one special teams stop, a three yard loss on a punt return. He plays the critical role of gunner on punt coverage.

*Named the starter over Desmond Ridder last Wednesday, QB Taylor Heinicke (Battlehawks) had plenty of time to prepare for a Minnesota Vikings team playing with a backup quarterback of their own in rookie fifth-round pick Jaren Hall. Hall was injured early in the game, resulting in recent acquisition Joshua Dobbs leading the team the rest of the way. Dobbs had some kind of magic, marching the Vikings down the field to the game-winning touchdown with under 30 seconds remaining.

Had Dobbs not miraculously escaped a sack to scramble 22 yards for a first down on 4th-and-7 on that final drive, the talk would be about Heinicke earning a victory in his first start of the season. Instead, a few mistakes by the Falcons earlier in the game will be treated as “what-ifs.” Heinicke was 21-of-38 for 268 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 20 yards on three attempts. Heinicke was aggressive almost to a fault, as he could’ve ended up with plenty more than just the one pick.

On back-to-back offensive players in the third quarter, RB Bijan Robinson lost a fumble in Atlanta territory, leading to a Minnesota touchdown. Then, Heinicke threw his interception, again on their own side of the field, this time resulting in a Vikings field goal. That proved to be the difference in the game. On Monday, Head Coach Arthur Smith announced that Heinicke would start again in week 10 against the Arizona Cardinals. He also said he’d evaluate the position after their week 11 bye.

*Also for the Falcons, OT Storm Norton (Wildcats) was active and played six special teams snaps.

*QB Josh Johnson (Wildcats) remained the third quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens in week nine.

*Despite ceding the starting duties to a returning Deshaun Watson for the Cleveland Browns, QB PJ Walker (Roughnecks) still managed to see the field for six snaps, though he did not throw a pass or register any statistics.

*Green Bay Packers P Daniel Whelan (Defenders) averaged 43.5 yards on four punts against the Los Angeles Rams, but struggled again with net yardage, averaging just 34.3 per punt. He landed one of the four punts inside the 20 yard-line. I charted each of Whelan’s punts this week:

– 1st punt: Traveled 52 yards with a hang time of 4.88 seconds (anywhere between 4.4 and 4.8 is considered ideal, depending on the circumstances). The punt was returned 14 yards, resulting in a 38-yard net. Hard to blame that on Whelan given the quality hang time.

– 2nd punt: From their opponent’s 43-yard line, Whelan’s punt was fair caught at the 10 yard-line with a hang-time of 4.17. That’s a gross and net of 33 yards.

– 3rd punt: A 47-yard punt to the Rams’ 10 yard-line, but returned past the 20, so it doesn’t count as a kick inside the 20. A holding penalty on LA moved it back. Hang time was 4.25 seconds.

– 4th punt: Another from close to midfield, Green Bay’s own 42. The punt went 42 yards with a 4.13 hang time. It was returned 11 yards for just 31 yards net. The punt landed inside the 20, but once again Green Bay’s coverage units could not contain the returner.

*Against a stingy New York Jets defense, Los Angeles Chargers TE Donald Parham (Renegades) went catch-less on two targets. The first was a misfire by QB Justin Herbert in the end zone, where Parham has become one of his favorite options. The second came on a miscommunication between the two, where Hebert was expecting Parham to run a different route. The two starting tight ends, Parham and Gerald Everett, both played 55% of the offensive snaps.

*While not on the 53-man roster, DT Austin Faoliu (Sea Dragons) appeared on the injury report for the second consecutive week. Faoliu’s practice window was opened for him to be activated off the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. Last week, he was a full participant all week but his game status was “out.” This week, he was a full participant again, upgraded to “questionable.” He was not activated from the PUP list prior to Seattle’s game against Baltimore, so he did not play, but he was activated and placed on the active roster on Monday.

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