The XFL got off to a running start in its opening weekend
The opening week of the 2020 XFL season is in the books, and it didn't disappoint. Teams totaled 154 points, each game sold more than 17,000 tickets, social media lit up with highlight videos, and roughly 8 million people watched or streamed the action. We also saw plenty of action on both sides of the ball, and the XFL's unique rules made for some interesting plays.
We saw plenty of offense, some moments on defense, and even some nice special teams action, despite the fact that special teams are limited by the rules. Week 1 is done, and we're looking forward to seeing what Week 2 has in store. Here are the five players and moments that stood out during the XFL's successful opening weekend.
1. The New York Guardians defense
I had to put this unit at the top of the list. We heard a lot about how much scoring there was liable to be in this new XFL, especially from the Guardians, who are coached by offensive guru Kevin Gilbride. But as they opened the season against the Tampa Bay Vipers on Sunday, it was their defense that stole the show. The Guardians held Marc Trestman's Vipers to just a lone field goal, stopped them at the goal line on four occasions, sacked both Aaron Murray and Quinton Flowers (who combined for just 17 pass completions) a total of five times, registered eight QB hits, added seven tackles for a loss, deflected eight pass attempts, forced three fumbles, and had three takeaways in new New York's dominating 23-3 win.
Defensive end Bunmi Rotimi (7 tackles, 2 QB hits, 2 TFLs), safety Wesley Sutton (2 sacks, 2 QB hits, TFL), and cornerback Bryce Jones (INT, TFL, PBU) led the way. The Guardians may not win with defense every week, but establishing this side of the ball in Week 1 is a pretty good start.
2. Houston Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker
The former Temple standout could be Player of the Week after his opening night performance. In Saturday's win over the Los Angeles Wildcats, Walker completed 59.0 percent of his attempts for 272 yards and four touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 103.8. He also pitched in 26 rushing yards. Walker showcased his accuracy, arm strength, mobility, and leadership skills, as the Roughnecks moved the ball at will against the much-talked-about Wildcats defense. Thanks in large part to Walker's performance, Houston leads the XFL in points (37), yards per play (5.6), and passing yards (272). And whether directly or indirectly, Walker also contributed to the first coaching change in the XFL as Los Angeles head coach Winston Moss fired his defensive coordinator, Pepper Johnson, on Monday following the Wildcats' poor showing on that side of the ball.
3. St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta'amu
St. Louis pulled out a grinder of a win at Dallas on Sunday (15-9), but in the process, Ta'amu put together an all-star performance. He completed 20-of-27 pass attempts (74.1 percent) for 209 yards a touchdown, which was good for a 108.4 passer rating. He also ran the ball nine times for 77 yards (8.6 ypc). His shining moment came on the BattleHawks' second-to-last possession of the game. With 9:58 left in regulation, St. Louis had a 12-9 lead when Ta'amu led a nine-play, 68-yard drive in which he completed all three of his passes and ran the ball twice for a grand total of 37 yards.
The end result was St. Louis eating up 5:16 worth of clock and finishing the drive with a 48-yard field goal, which gave them an extra cushion against the dangerous Dallas offense. Ta'amu should also get consideration for Player of the Week honors.
4. St. Louis BattleHawks linebacker Terence Garvin
Garvin was a star in the short-lived Alliance of American Football (AAF) with the Orlando Apollos, as he posted 24 tackles, five tackles for a loss, six pass deflections, three interceptions, one forced fumble, and a sack before the league ceased operations. The BattleHawks drafted Garvin, and they couldn't get him on the field fast enough. Against Dallas on Sunday, Garvin led St. Louis in tackles (9) and tackles for a loss (2); he was a force to be reckoned with, adding a sack as well. It's obvious that Garvin hasn't skipped a beat, which will serve the BattleHawks well as the season moves forward.
5. Seattle Dragons-DC Defenders opening game
I had to pick this entire game for the following reasons: It set the tone for what we can expect from an offensive standpoint, it was full of highlight-reel moments, it was the closest that the XFL got to a sell-out in its debut (17,163 fans in 20,000-seat Audi Field), and it did well in the television ratings. Game 1 averaged 3.3 million viewers/streamers on ABC, and at one point drew an audience of 4 million people. Fans in Seattle clearly aren't through with football, as that market drew a 6.4 rating. Our nation's capital clocked in at 4.0, and with three former Ohio State players on the roster in quarterback Cardale Jones (16-of-26, 235 yards, 2 touchdowns, 116.7 passer rating); defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle (tackle, QB hit); and cornerback Doran Grant (2 tackles), the Ohio markets of both Cleveland and Columbus drew a 4.6 and 4.5, respectively.
Week 2 can't get here fast enough.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of XFL.com)