Guardians Stymie Vipers in XFL’s New York Debut
East Rutherford, NJ (973espn.com) - The XFL's opening weekend continued in North Jersey Sunday with the New York Guardians handling the Tampa Bay Vipers, 23-3, at MetLife Stadium.
The fledgling league was coming off a successful opening day in which quarterbacks Cardale Jones of D.C. and P.J. Walker of Houston broke out as instant stars in front of energetic live crowds at smaller stadiums.
Cavernous MetLife Stadium did not provide the same atmosphere with 17,634 in attendance but the New York market is obviously the most important in the country and had to be part of the league's reboot.
Former New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride is the coach of the Guardians, who featured former Penn State star and Eagles training camp participant Matt McGloin at quarterback. Tampa Bay, which started another QB who had a cup of coffee in Philadelphia, Aaron Murray, and also boasts former Temple tight end and 973espn.com contributor Colin Thompson, is mentored by former Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman.
McGloin easily outdueled Murray, throwing for a touchdown and running for another although he was hardly dynamic, amassing an 82.8 passer rating by completing 15-of-29 passes for 182 yards.
"I just thought offensively there was a lot of flashes of how good we can be and some of the potential that some of the guys on that offense have but our offense as a whole, and obviously there’s a lot that we need to work on still, but we’re close," McGloin said. "We really are. ... We’ve got guys that are fully committed that are buying into what Coach Gilbride, G.A. [offensive coordinator George Mangus], and the rest of that staff is trying to accomplish. But it’s always good to win, especially the first one of the year and especially when it’s at home."
Mekale McKay, a lengthy 6-foot-5 wideout, was McGloin's top outside threat hauling in three receptions for 58 yards, including a 45-yarder that set up a 12-yard McGloin to Colby Pearson TD on a double move that left Tampa Bay cornerback Shelton Lewis in the dust. Lewis was also beaten by McKay and his day ended early with a hamstring injury.
"We’re very proud of our football team," Gilbride said. "It was a game that I think more than anything else showed the character and resilience that we had."
Murray, meanwhile, was just wildly inconsistent throwing the football, finishing a dismal 16-for-34 for 231 yards with two interceptions. Tampa Bay turned it over three times overall and the last was a fumble by athletic tight end Nick Truesdell that turned into a 13-yard fumble recovery for a TD by Jamar Summers.
"I thought we executed pretty good today," Murray said. "We ran the ball effectively -- we saw that at times. I thought the pass game was pretty good. It was just those mistakes. If you’re going to turn the ball over three times, and the other team doesn’t turn it over, they’re going to win. Plain and simple."
Murray was correct. At times the Vipers moved the ball well and actually outgained NY by a significant margin: 394 to 226.
"Our play today was unacceptable," Trestman admitted. "We turned the ball over three or four times. We didn’t tackle as well as we needed to tackle in the first half. When you have over 400 yards of offense and come up with three points… your play is just not acceptable.”
“The score was as it was, and the Guardians deserved to win. I’ll leave it at that.”
"We certainly struggled stopping them offensively, but to the tremendous credit of our defense, I thought they showed incredible courage and character to just keep battling all the way down and get all those turnovers and stop them," Gilbride assessed.
The greatest Tampa success, though, was with change-of-pace QB Quinton Flowers, a Taysom Hill Swiss Army Knife-type player, and the running game.
Flowers was effective with the read-option and as a jet-sweep guy, carrying it himself five times for 34 yards and opening some space for De'Veon Smith, who has a game-high 79 yards rushing for 16 carries. Flowers also had a 37-yard completion to Dan Williams late, who finished with a game-high six receptions for 123 yards.
"The second-half we got him going early," Trestman said of Flowers. "We are going to mix him up and continue to get him involved."
The Vipers, though, were terribly ineffective in the red zone, getting there four times and putting up just three points.
"They controlled the ball, controlled the time, and got down close to the goal line," Gilbride said. "A lot of teams crumble under those circumstances. I thought our guys rose up and played their best football down there."
"We had four or five tries in the red zone and came away with no points [actually three]. I think, moving the ball, it was pretty good, it’s just a matter of finishing those drives, being a little more efficient and understanding that windows get tighter in the red zone, players move faster, and there’s less room for the defense to have to cover," Murray explained. "We just have to be better going forward.
"I think we can."
-Vipers DL Ricky Walker made history by becoming the first XFL player to be ejected for throwing a punch at NY OC Ian Silberman. The altercation was a good opportunity for the league to show off its transparent officiating policy as the replay booth said in addition to a neutral-zone infraction on the pay Walker needed to be ejected.
-The son of XFL founder Vince McMahon and noted WWE personality himself, Shane McMahon, was in attendance.
-Vipers captain and starting OC Jordan McCray was forced to leave with a leg injury.
-An unruly fan tried to run onto the field while shirtless and made it about two yards into the Sound end zone before being engulfed by security and forcibly removed by a New Jersey State Trooper.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles, the NFL and the XFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen