TAMPA — The story normally starts out with two guys walking into a bar. A fight ensues and at first, it looks like the guy from out of town has the fight in hand. He’s got something to prove and came in on a mission.
But then the local guy wakes up and realizes this is his city, his bar and his reputation at hand. He’s not going to take it anymore.
That’s basically what happened Sunday night as the Vipers marched into Los Angeles with eyes on a potential playoff spot, coming off of last weekend’s 25-0 win against the Defenders — which was also the first win in the franchise’s history.
A strong start in the first half, which saw Tampa Bay take a 24-6 lead on the road in the second quarter, turned into complete mush as the Wildcats came back with 21 unanswered points and eventually the 41-34 win. Here are some key takeaways from the ESPN broadcast of Tampa Bay’s loss:
Lost without Jaques Patrick?
The XFL’s top running game was held to 142 yards on 40 carries. The injury to Jaques Patrick late in the first half deprived Tampa Bay of half of its one-two punch. On his last carry, Patrick was stopped by L.A.'s Will Smith and Roderick Henderson.He laid out on the field after the play, struggling to get up. He took a handful of steps before collapsing on the field, prompting team medics to come out his way. Patrick’s face was full of agony as he placed one hand on his back.
Patrick and De’Veon Smith both eclipsed 100-yards rushing last week in a 25-0 victory over D.C. They combined for only 94 yards on 31 yards Sunday, and Patrick’s absence hurt Tampa Bay’s chances of protecting an 18-point lead by playing keep away. After scoring on four of their first five possessions, the Vipers went five straight possessions without a point and didn’t reach the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. By then, an 18-point lead had become a 14-point deficit.
A lead built on turnovers, a collapse built on TDs
Tampa Bay defensive back Robert Priester intercepted on the game’s first play to set up an Andrew Franks field goa.
Two series later, Vipers defensive lineman Shane Bowman recovered a fumble in Wildcat territory, leading to quarterback Taylor Cornelius’ touchdown run for a 16-0 lead — that disappeared quickly.
Defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville’s unit, which pitched a shutout at home last week, yielded touchdowns on five of the next six possessions. Included were L.A. drives of 71, 69, 56 and 71 yards. The colorful 78-year-old Glanville’s in-game microphone went silent.
When momentum is and then isn’t on your side
Johnson found his rhythm in the second quarter, completing 10 of 13 passes and 164 yards. The Wildcats quarterback found tight end De’Quan Hampton in the end zone to help cut the lead by six and then successfully converted a two-point attempt when Johnson found Larry Rose. In the last scoring play before the half, Johnson found Brandon Barnes on a short pass to the middle, cutting the Wildcats’ deficit by one score.
It was a huge momentum shift for the Wildcats, scoring twice in just over a minute. The XFL’s running play clock rule also makes an impact in plays like such (where both plays were scored in the final two minutes of the half).
The XFL rule allows plays that finish out of bounds or with an incompletion to stop the clock until the next snap. The clock is also stopped after all the other plays that end within bounds until the ball spotted and five seconds have run off the play clock. The rationale is that this gives a little bit of an advantage to the team on the offense in this “comeback period.”
The momentum carried the Wildcats through the second half, ultimately outscoring Tampa Bay 35-10.
“They have to stay the course,” Wildcats coach Winston Moss said at the half. “They have to believe. We took (the Vipers’) best punch, and now we’re going to have to deliver a punch, now.”
What’s left to play for?
With the Vipers likely out of any kind of playoff picture, Tampa Bay returns to Raymond James for the next two weeks to play against the first-ranked St. Louis Battlehawks (5 p.m Saturday) followed by the Dallas Renegades (2 p.m. March 21).
The poor record also begs the question of what Ray Jay will look like fans-wise in the weeks to come. The Vipers’ home-opener brought in 18,117 fans in Week 3 but dropped to 12,249 in Week 4. Some can blame the drop in attendance on timing (Week 3 was on a Saturday afternoon whereas Week 4 was on a Sunday night) but it could also be a general curiosity drop in the XFL, overall, which the league has seen over the past two weeks.
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And while many of these players would probably say they’d like a few more wins on their season, they’ve said throughout the season they plan on using their opportunity to play in the XFL as a gateway to other opportunities. The Vipers would need to win all five remaining games to have a winning record.
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.