The XFL has continued to generate excitement throughout the three weeks of play.
The Seattle Sea Dragons opened the weekend against the Vegas Vipers on Saturday. The Sea Dragons took home the win 30-26 thanks to a two-touchdown performance from former NFL wide receiver Josh Gordon. That mark was then surpassed in the second game on the table when the DC Defenders defeated the St. Louis BattleHawks 34-28 to remain undefeated in the highest-scoring XFL 3.0 game to date.
Earlier this week, Houston Roughnecks head coach Wade Phillips said he believes he hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2019 because of his age. But the 75-year-old set his team up 3-0 after beating the San Antonio Brahmas 22-13 in the final at the weekend.
BREAK THE CHAIN:The XFL and USFL aim (again) to avoid joining the long line of failed start-up pro football leagues
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:How the XFL 2023 rulebook differs from NFL and college football
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Here are the winners and losers from Week 3 of the 2023 XFL season:
The Houston Roughnecks keep winning
The XFL has two unbeaten teams after three weeks of play — the DC Defenders and the Houston Roughnecks — but head coach Wade Phillips’ Roughnecks were arguably the most impressive team. With a 22-13 win over the visiting San Antonio Brahmas on Sunday night, the Roughnecks have bested their Texas-based XFL rivals in back-to-back games after beating the Arlington Renegades last week. Attentive XFL watchers will recall that in the 2020 XFL version 2.0, the Houston Roughnecks opened the season 5-0 before the league shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Next week, the Roughnecks head out to play the winless Orlando Guardians before taking on the Seattle Sea Dragons (1-2) in Week 5.
As the XFL continues to provide footage for players to release films for potential NFL opportunities, special teamers should not be overlooked. DC Defenders (3-0) punter Daniel Whelan is perfect proof of that. Born in Ireland, Whelan, 24, has emerged as the best player in the entire league. In a Sunday win against the BattleHawks, Whelan had four monster boots — including a 61-yard blast and a near-perfect punt in the fourth quarter that went just over the goal line for a touchback — and averaged 53.5 yards per punt. That gave him a season average of 46.2 yards per punt from his 15 kicks. Fans have noticed too.
A beautiful toe-tapping touchdown on a pass by (former Dallas Cowboys) quarterback Ben DiNucci was a great reminder of Gordon’s amazing talent.
He put an exclamation mark on his performance with the game-winning touchdown, an unlikely fourth-down catch, before backtracking and making his way into the end zone.
The 31-year-old led the NFL in yards (1,646) in 2013, notching nine touchdowns and earning All-Pro honors for the Cleveland Browns. His career was then completely derailed by repeated violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, but after a stint with the Fan Controlled Football League in 2021, he found his way back into the NFL, appearing in 12 games with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021, two last year with the Tennessee Titans. Could he use the XFL as a springboard back to the NFL in 2023? Games like this will surely help.
QB change pays off for Bob Stoops, Kyle Sloter
Arlington Renegades head coach Bob Stoops made a quarterback rotation in Week 3, starting Kyle Sloter over Drew Plitt. The move put the team back in the Victory Column against the Orlando Guardians. Sloter – who has played time on seven different NFL teams and played for the USFL’s New Orleans Breakers in 2022 – completed 18 of 23 passes for 124 yards on Sunday. His biggest shot came in the fourth quarter when his team was 9-3 behind. Sloter connected with receiver Tyler Vaughns for a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game. A two-point conversion by De’Veon Smith finally put the Renegades 10-9. As the Renegades improved to 2-1, it was a brutal defeat for the Guardians, who fell to 0-3 to join the Vegas Vipers as the XFL’s only winless team.
Ugly ending in DC
It was a hard-fought match between two sides who remained undefeated, but as defenders tried to milk the clock, tempers flared to end the game in an unsavory way.
Three players were ejected DC linebacker Francis Bernard and offensive lineman Rod Taylor and St. Louis running back Brian Hill. Incidentally, these two teams will meet again in two weeks, on March 18th in St. Louis.
The unsustainable fourth quarter magic is fading for STL
After the BattleHawks won their first two games of the season from behind, the BattleHawks (2-1) fell behind early again. However, this time it didn’t work out. So what was a huge matchup in the XFL North, with both St. Louis and DC competing as the only undefeated teams in the division, the BattleHawks’ defeat proved costly.
The BattleHawks started the game in a 14-point hole after defender (3-0), defenseman Michael Joseph, took an interception 41 yards away from AJ McCarron and scored a goal. St. Louis fought back to get the game into halftime but then quickly fell behind when its offense stuttered after the break. But then the BattleHawks had a golden opportunity in the last minute, 14 points down, when Defenders quarterback Jordan Ta’amu fumbled the ball. St. Louis recovered at the 2-yard line and then scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion. On their fourth and 15th onside attempt, McCarron was fired, nearly ending the game.
Josh Gordon touchdown celebration
Gordon and teammate Jahcour Pearson teamed up after his first touchdown for the “CPR” celebration. Following Damar Hamlin’s on-field collapse in January that required an on-field resuscitation, it’s probably best for the sports world to simply retire this Celly entirely.
Give and take live mics
A minor downside to the access the XFL gives to television viewers is the chance for fans to hear the gruff language of football. Several F-Bombs filtered through ESPN+’s broadcast of Saturday night’s game, either from players celebrating in the end zone or from coaches and players with microphones speaking absently as they normally would. Yes, yes “think of the children” – whatever. Actually the biggest problem was all the rough language we had not hear. The show frequently muted the audio to avoid other “bad” words, creating an interrupted viewing experience that ensured you missed portions of otherwise intriguing conversations or had a touchdown celebration with lengthy periods of silence.