Believe it or not, the inaugural week of the USFL is behind us. After a long and anticipated wait, spring football is back: and in full swing.
The USFL successfully played four games this weekend. Interestingly enough, every team in the south division won, while each north division squad lost.
Week 1 ✅ pic.twitter.com/hYsVfVCl05
— USFL (@USFL) April 19, 2022
Let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from each matchup, and what they mean for every franchise moving forward.
Birmingham vs. New Jersey | Stallions 28, Generals 24
The USFL kicked off with arguably the most exciting game of the entire week. An electric atmosphere in Birmingham resulted in the hometown Stallions winning in the final seconds over the New Jersey Generals.
During the game, Birmingham’s first round pick, Alex McGough, went down with an injury. J’Mar Smith filled in, and was outstanding. Despite a rocky start, Smith found a rhythm, and allowed Birmingham to make a comeback despite taking New Jersey’s best blows.
Smith finished the game with 156 yards through the air, alongside two touchdowns. His ability to make timely throws, while impressively eluding pressure, makes him into one of the league’s most underrated quarterbacks. Expect Birmingham to rely on Smith as the season continues, especially if he continues to improve.
THAT'S SIX 🔥@jMar_Smith ➡️ @caryangeline610
📺: @FOXSports, @NBCSports & @PeacockTV pic.twitter.com/bci3vDX0s5
— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) April 17, 2022
Even though New Jersey lost the game, their offense is certainly one to be feared. The Generals boast one of the best running games in the league, powered by Darius Victor and Trey Williams. Not to mention, DeAndre Johnson is a threat as well, posting 98 rushing yards in week one.
Mike Riley simply has to figure out what he wants to do with his quarterbacks. Luis Perez played a fantastic game, but hardly saw the field in the second half. If quarterback play can become more consistent in the coming weeks, New Jersey will be a team to beat in the North.
.@DredaDon14 FOR SIX❗️
📺: @FOXSports, @NBCSports & @PeacockTV pic.twitter.com/9ykIwS5yXq
— New Jersey Generals (@USFLGenerals) April 17, 2022
Defensively, New Jersey has a solid squad. Shalom Luani was fantastic on the night, and led the defensive group from the get go. However, Riley’s group has to tighten up moving forward, as they allowed the Stallions to march right down the field in under two minutes for the go-ahead score.
Michigan vs. Houston | Gamblers 17, Panthers 12
After watching Michigan’s first game, it’s pretty clear that Shea Patterson deserves to be the starting quarterback. Paxton Lynch flat out looked awful, showing no signs of life whatsoever.
Patterson, on the other hand, improved in the second half, and proved that he is capable of being an above average QB in the USFL.
TOUCHDOWN‼️@SheaPatterson_1 finds @successfulj7_ 🤝
📺: @NBCSports & @PeacockTV | #USFLOpeningWeekend pic.twitter.com/HGLAr13RFa
— Michigan Panthers (@USFLPanthers) April 17, 2022
To be honest, Michigan has a good team with tons of potential. On Sunday, it was simply a matter of finishing drives, something they failed to do. Multiple times, the Panthers got deep into Houston’s territory, but could not put points on the board.
Missed field goals, turnovers, and offensive breakdowns cost the team dearly. If Michigan cleans this up, they will quickly become one of the USFL’s premier teams.
Houston got the win on Sunday, but it wasn’t perfect by any means. After scoring 17 points in the first half, the team tried their best to blow the lead, being shut out in the second half. Clayton Thorson had several excellent moments in the pocket, alongside some ugly ones.
KEEP RACKIN' 'EM UP 🎲
📺: @NBCSports & @PeacockTV | #USFLOpeningWeekend pic.twitter.com/757v0Nt2KT
— Houston Gamblers (@USFLGamblers) April 17, 2022
If the Gamblers want to solidify themselves as playoff contenders, the team has to tighten up offensively. Mark Thompson is an excellent running back, and Thorson can be a viable option at the quarterback position. Right now, the question remains: can they consistently score? We’ll discover that answer during the season.
Now, defensively, Houston has one of the best units in the league. Donald Payne was an absolute beast, racking up 19 tackles on the day. Reggie Northup was outstanding as well, and his 90 yard fumble six was a major factor in Houston’s victory.
Every time Michigan had a chance to take the lead, Houston stifled those hopes. If the Gamblers continue to lock things down on that side of the football, teams will have nightmares trying to score against this group.
New Orleans vs. Philadelphia | Breakers 23, Stars 17
No doubt about it, both New Orleans and Philadelphia feature two of the USFL’s best quarterbacks. Even though the two were not at the top of their game, Bryan Scott and Kyle Sloter have some of the best upside in the league when it comes to pure talent.
Starting with New Orleans, the Breakers look like a force to be reckoned with in the South. Kyle Sloter got the job done when the team needed him to, while Jordan Ellis and TJ Logan were excellent on the ground.
All smiles for the @USFLBreakers after that last fumble recovery 😄🌊
📺: @USA_Network | #USFLOpeningWeekend pic.twitter.com/N6wJEw64Ki
— USFL (@USFL) April 17, 2022
On top of that, New Orleans boasts one of the best defenses in the USFL. Throughout the game they were exceptional, making Bryan Scott’s life miserable in the pocket. Davin Bellamy is a monster, racking up multiple sacks on the afternoon – which earned him Defensive Player Of The Week honors.
As long as Sloter improves his play as the season continues, New Orleans will be in excellent shape. They feature many playmakers on both sides of the football – and a fearless coach in Larry Fedora. The Breakers are here to make waves in the new USFL, no pun intended.
On the other hand, Philadelphia should not be discouraged despite the loss. The team played far from its best football, yet almost found a way to win. Bryan Scott saw his ups and downs throughout the game. To be fair, a lot of his struggles revolved around Philadelphia’s offensive line being a disaster.
As the season continues, expect Scott to see more action as the Stars’ develop chemistry across the board. Philadelphia features an incredible backfield, with both Darnell Holland and Matt Colburn II. Holland, in particular, was outstanding on Sunday, and is arguably the league’s most explosive back.
・ one-handed TD grab by Osirus Mitchell ( @OMitchellV ) ✅
・ 42-yard TD run by Darnell Holland ( @yocrazylegs ) ✅
・ 1st down technology ✅
— @Chris_Broussard, @kevinwildes & @getnickwright break down the @USFL's best of the weekend! pic.twitter.com/cg9YUwOofl
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) April 18, 2022
Bart Andrus is a football genius, and the Stars defense is respectable. Matt Mengel is a solid kicker, albeit a couple of missed field goals on Sunday. The pieces will come together for Philadelphia as the team gets more repetitions. They’ve got a chance to right the ship against Pittsburgh on Saturday, and odds are they will.
Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay | Bandits 17, Maulers 3
The final game of the week was probably the ugliest, especially with all of the drama surrounding Pittsburgh. That being said, there were several exciting moments, and we were treated to watching Jordan Ta’amu back on the football field.
Tampa Bay has one of the best offenses in the league, and will only see improvements as the weeks pass by. Jordan Ta’amu was solid on Monday night, even with a couple of turnovers. His poise and confidence make him into one of the league’s best. Bandit fans are in good shape with Ta’amu at the helm.
The @USFLBandits have a 17-0 lead at the half, and their QB @JTaamu10 is a big reason why.
He talked to @joelklatt and @curtmenefee at the end of the 1st half 🏈
📺: FS1 pic.twitter.com/KJgqmHPy0F
— USFL (@USFL) April 19, 2022
The Bandits also have a defense that can get the job done. They held Pittsburgh to only three points, even though the Maulers had plenty of opportunities to score. Todd Haley’s defense was elite from the get go, shutting down Pittsburgh’s offense on almost every possession. If Tampa Bay continues to play defense like they did on Monday night, the league is in trouble.
Well, the Maulers clearly need a lot of work if they want to see success. The team does possess plenty of talent, but they looked completely out of sorts against Tampa Bay.
Boy Meets W̶o̶r̶l̶d̶ Ground
MR. FEENEY @dawgs41feeney with the big sack 💪
📺: FS1 pic.twitter.com/IU5R0D8AgX
— Tampa Bay Bandits (@USFLBandits) April 19, 2022
Kirby Wilson is certainly to blame, sticking to a traditional run-heavy offense that simply did not work. Honestly, some of his play calls left fans scratching their heads, as they made zero sense. Running the ball on long third down scenarios isn’t ideal, so it is strange that Wilson stuck to that formula for large chunks of the game.
With both Josh Love and Kyle Lauletta splitting game repetitions, it was hard for either quarterback to find a rhythm. Not to mention, they hardly threw the ball at all. Love did show some potential, making a few solid throws on the night. Moving forward, Pittsburgh needs to be more aggressive on offense if they want to see success.
Because of their offensive issues, the Maulers’ sensational defensive performance flew under the radar. The squad shut out Tampa Bay in the second half, and provided their offense with plenty of opportunities to make a comeback.
A strong first half from @tretarpley as he adds this interception to go along with his five tackles. 💪
📺 FS1 pic.twitter.com/MsaaI53N2S
— Pittsburgh Maulers (@USFLMaulers) April 19, 2022
If Pittsburgh wants to be successful in the future, the entire game plan has to be adjusted. The talent is there: now they have to figure out how to properly use it.
Overall, it was an enjoyable weekend of football that the USFL provided us with. Sure, the league had its moments, and the quality of play was questionable at times. That is to be expected, as teams have only spent a few weeks with each other so far.
Without a doubt, Birmingham vs. New Jersey was the most exciting game of the week, kicking off the USFL’s season in suspenseful fashion. Not to mention, having an active crowd present for the matchup made the viewing experience even better.
It’s going to be another party at Protective this Saturday night at 6p CT!
Join in on the all fun and support the Magic City against the @USFLGamblers for just $10.
— Birmingham Stallions (@USFLStallions) April 19, 2022
As we head into week two, things should be quite exciting with several key matchups coming our way. It all starts with New Jersey vs. Michigan on Friday night on the USA Network, as two winless teams look to capture their first victory.
One-handed catches, scoop 'n scores and much more!
Week 1 brought all of the fireworks 🎆🏈 pic.twitter.com/EEz1ZT2MWW
— USFL (@USFL) April 20, 2022
Did you enjoy watching the USFL’s opening week of football? Which team do you think is the best so far? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!