Takeaways from USFL’s second weekend: Jeff Fisher still searching for first win, Breakers’ Jonathan Adams has amazing catch – USA TODAY
The second weekend of the rebooted USFL saw four more contests staged in Birmingham, Alabama.
The New Jersey Generals held off the Michigan Panthers on Friday as anemic offenses made for a low-scoring affair, but the scoring picked up in the second game as the Philadelphia Stars beat the Pittsburgh Maulers, 30-23, early Saturday afternoon.
The Birmingham Stallions defeated the Houston Gamblers Saturday night, and the weekend wrapped up with a Sunday afternoon game between the New Orleans Breakers and Tampa Bay Bandits, a 34-3 Breakers victory.
Here are some takeaways from the second weekend of action in the rebooted spring football league:
Catch of the season?
It’s still very early in the season — each team still has eight more regular-season games left to play — but we may have already seen the catch of the USFL year. It came on Sunday with just more than three minutes left to play in the first half of the Breakers-Bandits game.
New Orleans receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. was lined up on the left side of the field and ran a go route when quarterback Kyle Sloter found him for a 29-yard grab. What made it special was how Adams Jr. soared and high-pointed the ball with one hand. The big gain helped set up the Breakers’ third touchdown of the day, which gave them a commanding 18-point lead over Tampa Bay.
Overall, it was a solid day for Sloter (despite a nagging groin injury), as Breakers coach Larry Fedora looked to push the tempo offensively and dialed up passing plays with quick release throws that allowed New Orleans’ playmakers to get in open space.
Tampa Bay, Todd Haley and Jordan Ta’amu suddenly in trouble
One of the two head coaches in the USFL with NFL head coaching experience, Todd Haley of the Tampa Bay Bandits, had a massive letdown in Week 2 — especially on offense. Haley, who has offensive coordinator stops with the Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, led a Tampa Bay team that put up only three points in the first half of their loss against the Breakers. In that first half, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu completed only five passes for 50 yards. The Bandits couldn’t stay on the field, succumbing to three-and-outs and miscues like dropped balls.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Bandits, however, is an offensive line that couldn’t hold blocks and let the Breakers’ defensive front penetrate too easily.
Though Tampa Bay did move the ball better in the second half, it was a pair of failed fourth-down conversions in the third quarter and a Ta’amu pick early in that doomed any hope for a Bandits comeback.
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Jeff Fisher still searching for first win
Jeff Fisher compiled 173 regular-season wins over 22 years in the NFL spent with the Titans and Rams franchises. But after two weeks, he’s still searching for win No. 1 in the USFL.
His Michigan Panthers fell 10-6 to the New Jersey Generals as quarterback Shea Patterson’s last-gasp pass as time expired fell incomplete when he tried to target Lance Lenoir Jr. in the end zone. Though the Panthers had the ball at the Generals’ 16-yard line with a chance to win, their offense could not get the job done – which was a theme of the night.
Michigan finished the game with just 183 total yards and averaged 3.1 yards per play. Of particular concern was the play of Patterson, the former University of Michigan quarterback who was the first overall pick in the USFL draft. He completed just 14 of his 29 attempts (48.3%) for 124 yards.
Some credit should go to the Generals’ defense to be sure, but the Panthers clearly have plenty of work to do after scoring 12 points in Week 1.
Serious injury puts damper on Friday night’s game
Football is a dangerous game, as we were unfortunately reminded this weekend.
Michigan Panthers tight end Joey Magnifico had to be carted off the field after appearing to sustain a serious leg injury after he was rolled up before halftime in Friday night’s game against the New Jersey Generals. Magnifico was transported from Protective Stadium to a Birmingham-area hospital, per the broadcast.
Magnifico, a former University of Memphis player who is the head coach at his high school alma mater, was joined on the field by his father, the broadcast said.
It seems that the folks in Birmingham didn’t want to pay $10 and had better things to do on a sunny afternoon, judging by the attendance at Protective Stadium in the Week 2 matchup between the Philadelphia Stars and Pittsburgh Maulers.
The crowd shots by the camera showed some sections of the stadium tarped off and more people on the sidelines doing their jobs for the FOX broadcast than actually in the stands.
It wasn’t a packed house by any means, but a respectable crowd was on hand Saturday night with the hometown Birmingham Stallions in action vs. the Houston Gamblers. The sparse crowds continued on Sunday, as the Breakers-Bandits game had to compete with the NASCAR Cup Series race at nearby Talladega and played before a mostly-empty stadium.
Things got interesting in a hurry thanks to Maulers head coach Kirby Wilson. When asked before the game what it would take to get their first victory, Wilson replied, “I’m gonna keep my foot on the gas and my thumb in their (expletive).”
Well, there you go.
Both teams got off to a rough start, with each quarterback being sacked on their first play from scrimmage, and the Stars turned the ball over the first two times they had the ball. But the action picked up as the game progressed.
The scoring got underway with a 25-yard field goal by Pittsburgh’s Ramiz Ahmed with 3:41 left in the first quarter, with the first touchdown being scored by Philadelphia when Bryan Scott, who finished 26-for-36 for 272 yards and four total touchdowns, found Diondre Overton for a 3-yard strike.
In the first five USFL games, no more than 23 points were scored by any team, but Philadelphia scored hit the 30-point mark midway through the fourth quarter.
First 3-point conversion
The first successful three-point conversion in the league took place in the fourth quarter when Scott went back to pass and hit Paul Terry who scored from 10 yards out to give Philadelphia a 30-23 lead. The conversion came after Scott found a wide-open Maurice Alexander for a 10-yard score.
Bumped for baseball
The beginning of Saturday night’s game between the Birmingham Stallions and Houston Gamblers could only be seen on FS2 or the Fox Sports app as the league got bumped from FS1 so the MLB game between the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins could be completed. Action returned to FS1 slightly before the midway mark of the first quarter.
It’s a shame viewers had to go searching a bit for the first quarter of Saturday night’s game because it was action-packed. Both the Stallions and Gamblers had a pick-six in the quarter.
Just three plays in, Birmingham’s Brian Allen corralled a pass from Houston’s Clayton Thorson and took it to the house.
The Gamblers cut into their early deficit as they managed a field goal on the ensuing drive. They then took the lead on the Stallions’ first offensive possession as J’Mar Smith was intercepted by Will Likely, who popped up off the ground and made his way to the end zone.
Smith was much better than Thorson from there on out, though. He finished 20-for-30 for 229 yards and threw two touchdowns. Thorson was 13-for-27 (48.1%) for 141 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. His final pick of the game with 1:04 to go secured a 33-28 win for the Stallions (2-0).