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Tampa Bay Vipers v New York Guardians Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

No bite from Vipers in season-opening loss to Guardians

The Vipers opened up their inaugural season Sunday afternoon with a miserable performance, losing 23-3 on the road.

After a fun couple of games to kick off the new XFL on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Vipers got their turn to get things going. The scene was MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The opponent was the New York Guardians. Both of those may be future trivia questions

The Guardians got out to a fast start, thanks in large part to a long kick return by Austin Duke that set up their first drive at the Vipers’ 48-yard line. Tampa Bay’s defense very quickly forced a fourth down, but New York quarterback Matt McGloin converted it with a 15-yard pass to Jake Powell. Not long after, McGloin scored the game’s first points with a one-yard touchdown run. A one-point conversion by Tim Cook capped off an eight-play, 48-yard drive that put the Guardians up 7-0 early.

The Tampa Bay offense got moving on its first drive, with quarterback Aaron Murray hitting on his first three passes. After converting a 3rd & 12 with a 19-yard pass to Reece Horn, the Vipers had a first down at the 6-yard line. But disaster struck on the next play, with Murray throwing an ill-advised jump ball that was intercepted by Andrew Soroh.

The two teams then traded punts, leading right into the end of the first quarter. After 15 minutes, New York held a 7-0 lead.

On the second play of the second quarter, McGloin found Mekale McKay for a 45-yard gain to the Tampa Bay 12. Then, on the next play, he hit Colby Pearson for a wide-open touchdown. Cook followed up by punching in the one-point conversion to put the Vipers down 14-0 just about two and a half minutes into the second quarter.

The Vipers offense moved the ball a bit on its next drive, but it ended with no points as Andrew Franks missed a 50-yard field goal. It didn’t come back to hurt, though, as the defense got a stop to keep the deficit at 14.

Murray picked up a couple of first downs on the next drive and should’ve had a third, but a bad third-down drop led to yet another Tampa Bay punt. The Guardians kept the pressure on from there, thanks in part to Vipers defensive tackle Ricky Walker. He threw a punch, leading to a first down and an ejection. But the Guardians couldn’t add to their lead, punting the ball away with just under two minutes left in the half.

On the ensuing possession, Nick Truesdell made a highlight-reel grab in traffic, picking up 27 yards.

Murray looked to have been sacked to end the drive a few plays later, but New York was called for too many men on the field. Murray then found Horn for 11 more yards and the Vipers benefited from a roughness call. But on the next play, Murray was intercepted for the second time.

With barely any time left in the half, the Vipers continued to hurt themselves. A busted coverage led to a 32-yard pass that set up a 49-yard field goal attempt by Matthew McCrane with five seconds left in the half. He nailed it, putting an end to what was a miserable first 30 minutes of the Vipers’ existence.

When the Vipers took the field to start the second half, they did so with a new quarterback—initially. Quinton Flowers got in the game and ran a couple of plays before Murray came back in on a 3rd & 11. And on that 3rd & 11, Murray had the ball knocked loose. Tampa Bay recovered, but it had to punt the ball away.

The Guardians ended up punting the ball right back, contributing to a slow start to the third quarter.

Tampa Bay’s offense got moving a little better on its next possession, with a heavy commitment to the run. Jacques Patrick picked up gains of four, eight and five, then De’Veon Smith gained four and seven yards. Flowers got the next two carries, keeping an option for a gain of six on first down before taking a handoff from Murray for a pickup of 15 to the New York 21-yard line on the next play. Smith and Flowers then combined for seven yards to bring up a 3rd & 3 at the 14. Patrick got the third-down carry, breaking free for 10 yards to set up a 1st & Goal.

Inside the 10 for the second time in the game, the Vipers once again failed to find the end zone. Patrick was stuffed for no gain on first down before two Murray incompletions forced a 23-yard field goal by Franks. It only cut the deficit to 17-3, but at least Tampa Bay finally found the scoreboard with one minute left in the third quarter. It was a 16-play, 77-yard drive that lasted 7:42, and it ended with a curious decision to kick. Nonetheless, the Vipers had their first-ever points.

The end of the third quarter came shortly after, with the Guardians still leading 17-3.

New York started the fourth quarter with a conversion on 3rd & 6, keeping the Tampa Bay offense on the sideline. The Guardians got a generous pass interference call after that, moving them deeper into Vipers territory. A couple of incompletions by McGloin eventually led to a punt, with Marc Trestman’s offense taking over at its own 7.

Trestman stuck with Murray to start the next drive, which didn’t last long. On the first play, Murray found Truesdell for a first down, but the big tight end fumbled the ball away. Jamar Summers recovered for New York and returned it for a touchdown. An unsuccessful one-point attempt left the score at 23-3 with 11:54 left in the game.

The Vipers were quickly up against it on their next drive, facing a 4th & 4 on their side of the field. Murray responded with a 42-yard pass to Williams, setting the offense up inside the Guardians’ 25. Flowers reentered the game, but Trestman still didn’t let him throw the ball. Regardless, the dual-threat signal-caller kept the offense moving. He picked up seven yards and a first down to the 9 before Smith got another three to bring up 2nd & Goal. Murray then came back in, got sacked and threw an incomplete pass to turn the ball over on downs.

New York quickly had to punt the ball back to Tampa Bay with just four minutes to go. Flowers stayed in the game, but the Vipers were content to simply drain the clock. That is, until after the two-minute warning. Flowers stood in the pocket and unloaded a 37-yard dime to Williams.

But yet again, the Vipers couldn’t find the end zone. A penalty, a couple of failed runs and a sack ended the drive. That made it four trips inside the 10-yard line that yielded a total of three points for the Vipers.

New York ran out the final minute-plus from there, finishing off a 23-3 victory.

Quick Stats

  • Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray finished the game 16-of-34 for 231 yards and two interceptions. He was sacked three times in the loss.
  • Quinton Flowers completed one of his two passes for 37 yards while rushing for 34 yards on five carries. He made a clear impact on the game when he was on the field.
  • De’Veon Smith ran 16 times for 79 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
  • Jacques Patrick totaled 32 rushing yards on eight carries, which was good for an average of four yards per carry.
  • Daniel Williams was Tampa Bay’s leading receiver, catching six of his nine targets for 123 yards.
  • Tampa Bay outgained New York 394-226, but turned the ball over three times. The Guardians didn’t turn the ball over once.

The Vipers (0-1) will try to find their first win—and first touchdown—next Saturday (Feb. 15) when they head to Seattle for a 5:00 p.m. matchup with the Dragons (0-1).

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