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Takeaways from Tampa Bay Vipers’ XFL season opener in New York

Tampa Bay fell 23-3 to the Guardians on Sunday afternoon, and could already have a quarterback controversy on its hands.
Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray (11) hands the ball of to running back Jacques Patrick (29) during an XFL football game against the New York Guardians on Sunday. [STEVE LUCIANO  |  AP]
Tampa Bay Vipers quarterback Aaron Murray (11) hands the ball of to running back Jacques Patrick (29) during an XFL football game against the New York Guardians on Sunday. [STEVE LUCIANO | AP]
Published Feb. 10
Updated Feb. 10

You could still see a faded NFL logo on the turf of MetLife Stadium.

And although it was covered by a much broader XFL logo Sunday afternoon as the Tampa Bay Vipers and New York Guardians took the field, it served as a true sign of the times: As one league — and brand of football — signed off last weekend, another begins.

With the XFL under way in its 2020 reboot season, here are some takeaways from the Vipers’ 23-3 season-opening loss to the Guardians in East Rutherford, N.J.:

Another Tampa Bay team with QB concerns

Aaron Murray (Georgia/Plant High) started for the Vipers, but given his performance — 16-of-34 passing for 231 yards with two interceptions and two fumbles (though he recovered both) — the Vipers (0-1) may take another look at quarterback.

Coming into Week 1, coach Marc Trestman assured fans that former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers would have a role in the offense, though not necessarily as a full-time quarterback. He’s one of four on the roster.

On Sunday, Murray overthrew the long passes and underthrew the short ones. Flowers made minimal gains in the ground game, rushing five times for 34 yards. He was 1-for-2 passing.

Whoever starts next week will need better protection. Murray was sacked three times and pressured frequently.

The first interception derailed the Vipers

With five minutes left in the first quarter, Murray had first and goal from 6-yard line, a prime opportunity to tie the score at 7. He got greedy.

Murray’s attempt to drop in a pass to tight end Nick Truesdell in the right corner of the end zone came up short and Andrew Soroh intercepted. Coming just 41 seconds after a pretty 19-yard third-down pass to Reece Horn, it felt like a golden opportunity lost.

It was the Vipers’ first of three trips into the red zone without scoring a touchdown, managing only Andrew Franks’ 23-yard field goal in the third quarter to make it 17-3.

Where was the defense?

Blown coverages cost the Vipers. Tampa Bay just couldn’t find a way to stop quarterback Matt McGloin, who accounted for three touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) and wasn’t sacked.

A Vipers, XFL first

Tampa Bay defensive tackle Ricky Walker’s first XFL game ended prematurely after he threw a punch at New York offensive lineman Ian Silberman. On replay, it looked like Walker was retaliating after Silberman grabbed his facemask. Walker drew a 15-yard personal foul and a disqualification seconds after Fox color analyst and former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen was saying "these players haven’t hit anybody yet,” alluding to the fact that most of these players have been training against their teammates since December.

Walker became the first player to get ejected in the XFL this season.

No glitz or glamour

While some of the XFL’s new rules were implemented automatically — a 25-second play clock and kickoff returns — others were up to teams to employ.

New York elected to go for one point after scoring each of its first two touchdowns instead of going two or three. The double-forward pass also wasn’t used.

Murray said in the weeks leading up to the season debut that we might see three or four double-forward passes, and other teams (like the D.C. Defenders) used the tactic to their advantage in their opener. Trestman has said since Vipers players reported that his emphasis would be on getting down the basics. Given the Vipers’ offensive output Sunday, he has a point.

“Our play today was unacceptable," Trestman said. "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.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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