Jeff Fisher still looking for a first win
The second weekend of the restarted USFL saw four more contests held in Birmingham, Alabama.
The New Jersey Generals held off the Michigan Panthers on Friday as anemic offenses resulted in a low-scoring affair, but scoring resumed in Game 2 as the Philadelphia Stars beat the Pittsburgh Maulers, 30-23, early Saturday afternoon.
The Birmingham Stallions beat the Houston Gamblers on Saturday night and the weekend ended with a Sunday afternoon game between the New Orleans Breakers and the Tampa Bay Bandits, a 34-3 victory for the Breakers.
Here are some takeaways from the second weekend of action in the restarted Spring Football League:
The catch of the season?
It’s still very early in the season – each team still has eight regular season games to play – but we may have already seen the USFL catch of the year. He came on Sunday with just over three minutes left in the first half of the Breakers-Bandits game.
New Orleans wide receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. was lined up on the left side of the field and ran a tee road when quarterback Kyle Sloter found him for a 29-yard catch. What made it special was the way Adams Jr. climbed and pointed the ball with one hand. The big win helped set up the Breakers’ third touchdown of the day, which gave them an 18-point lead over Tampa Bay.
All in all, it was a solid day for Sloter (despite a lingering groin injury), as Breakers coach Larry Fedora looked to pick up the pace offensively and made up passing plays with quick throws that got the New Orleans playmakers into open space.
Tampa Bay, Todd Haley and Jordan Ta’amu suddenly in trouble
One of two USFL head coaches with NFL head coaching experience, Todd Haley of the Tampa Bay Bandits, had a huge disappointment in Week 2, especially on offense. Haley, who has offensive coordinator saves with the Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, led a Tampa Bay team that registered just three points in the first half of their loss to the Breakers. During that first half, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu only completed five passes for 50 yards. The Bandits couldn’t stay on the court, succumbing to three-and-outs and errors like stray balls.
However, perhaps the Bandits’ biggest concern is an offensive line that couldn’t hold the blocks and let the Breakers’ defensive front penetrate too easily.
Although Tampa Bay moved the ball better in the second half, it was two fourth-quarter conversion failures in the third quarter and an early Ta’amu pick that doomed any hope of a Bandits comeback.
Jeff Fisher still looking for a first victory
Jeff Fisher has compiled 173 regular season wins in his 22 years in the NFL with the Titans and Rams franchises. But after two weeks, he’s still on the hunt for the USFL’s No. 1.
His The Michigan Panthers lost 10-6 to the New Jersey Generals as quarterback Shea Patterson’s final pass as time expired became incomplete when he tried to target Lance Lenoir Jr. in the end zone. Although the Panthers had the ball at the Generals 16-yard line with a chance to win, their offense couldn’t get the job done – which was a theme of the night.
Michigan finished the game with just 183 total yards and averaging 3.1 yards per play. Patterson’s play, the former University of Michigan quarterback who was the league’s first draft pick ‘USFL, was of particular concern. He completed just 14 of 29 attempts (48.3%) for 124 yards.
Some credit should go to the Generals defense, of course, but the Panthers clearly have a lot of work to do after scoring 12 points in Week 1.
Serious injury puts a damper on Friday night’s game
Football is a dangerous game, as we were sadly reminded over the weekend.
Michigan Panthers tight end Joey Magnifico had to be ejected from the field after appearing to sustain a serious leg injury after being rolled up before halftime in Friday night’s game against the New Jersey Generals. Magnifico was transported from Protection Stadium to a Birmingham area hospital, according to the broadcast.
Magnifico, former University of Memphis player who is the head coach of his high school alma materwas joined on the pitch by his father, according to the show.
A pandemic type attendance
It looks like the folks in Birmingham didn’t want to pay $10 and had better things to do on a sunny afternoon, judging by the attendance at Protection Stadium during the Week 2 game between the Philadelphia Stars and Maulers of Pittsburgh.
Camera shots of the crowd showed some sections of the stadium covered with tarpaulin and more people on the sidelines doing their job for the FOX broadcast than in the stands.
It was by no means a full house, but a respectable crowd was on hand Saturday night with the hometown Birmingham Stallions in action against the Houston Gamblers. The sparse crowds continued on Sunday, as the Breakers-Bandits game was set to rival the NASCAR Cup Series race near Talladega and played before an almost empty stadium.
Things got interesting in a hurry thanks to Maulers head coach Kirby Wilson. When asked before the game what it would take to get his first win, Wilson replied, “I’m going to keep my foot on the gas and my thumb in their (expletive).”
Well, there it is.
Both teams got off to a rocky start, with each quarterback being sacked on their first play from scrimmage, and the Stars turned the ball over the first two times they had the ball. But the action picked up speed as the game progressed.
The scoring started with a 25-yard field goal by Pittsburgh’s Ramiz Ahmed with 3:41 left in the first quarter, with the first touchdown scoring for Philadelphia when Bryan Scott, who went 26-of-36 for 272 yards and four total. touchdowns, found Diondre Overton for a 3-yard strike.
In the USFL’s first five games, no more than 23 points were scored by any team, but Philadelphia’s score hit the 30-point mark midway through the fourth quarter.
First conversion in 3 points
The first successful three-point conversion in the league came in the fourth quarter when Scott came back to pass and hit Paul Terry who scored from 10 yards out to give Philadelphia a 30-23 lead. The conversion came after Scott found a wide-open Maurice Alexander for a 10-yard score.
Hit for baseball
The start of Saturday night’s game between the Birmingham Stallions and the Houston Gamblers could only be seen on FS2 or the Fox Sports app as the league was kicked out of FS1 so the MLB game between the Chicago White Sox and the Minnesota Twins could be finished. The action returned to FS1 shortly before the halfway point of the first quarter.
Pick six duel
It’s a shame viewers had to search a bit for the first quarter of Saturday night’s game as it was action-packed. The Stallions and Gamblers had a pick six in the quarter.
After just three plays, Birmingham’s Brian Allen caught a pass from Houston’s Clayton Thorson and took it home.
The Gamblers reduced their initial deficit with a successful field goal that followed. They then took the lead on the Stallions’ first offensive possession when J’Mar Smith was intercepted by Will Likely, who popped up from the floor and headed for the end zone.
However, Smith was much better than Thorson from there. He went 20 for 30 for 229 yards and threw for two touchdowns. Thorson was 13 for 27 (48.1%) for 141 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His final pick of the game with 1:04 to go secured a 33-28 victory for the Stallions (2-0).