Years in the making, and decades dating back to Vince McMahon’s first attempt at an alternative football league, the new XFL kicked off its inaugural 2020 season on Saturday, February 8. The D.C. Defenders defeated the Seattle Dragons 31-19 in the league’s opening game.

The first half was fun and exciting, showcasing many of the leagues unique rules. The kickoff is moved back to the 20-yard line, and the ensuing kick must reach the opposite 20-yard line in the air. This is done to increase the frequency of kickoff returns, mostly for the fans. The defenders from the kicking team are moved ahead of the kicker though, so in practice, the returner would usually run into a wall fairly quickly. The second part of this rule was applied when a Dragons kick didn’t reach the 20-yard line: and the Defenders were awarded the ball at Seattle’s 45-yard line. This means a short kick puts the receiving team almost immediately in scoring range.

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The offenses were a bit slow to start, with the defenses practicing good form tackling in the open fields. On the opening drive of the game, the Dragons went three-and-out. On the Defenders ensuing drive, former Ohio State and NFL quarterback Cardale Jones would drive the ball down the field for a Ty Rausa field goal: the new league’s first score. Jones would receive MVP chants from the crowd of 17,000+ attendees after completing his pass.

The league’s first touchdown would come on a pass from Dragons quarterback Brandon Silver to receiver Austin Proehl.

The Defenders didn’t answer on offense, but rather defense, blocking a punt in the endzone and recovering it for the franchise’s first touchdown.

Of course in the XFL, extra point kicks have been eliminated. Teams can opt to go for 1, 2, or 3 points from the 2.5, 5, or 10-yard line. In the first half, teams opted for the 1-point conversion to varying success. The 2-point attempt doesn’t seem like a bad bet, not being much further. The 3-point attempt remains valuable, as a 9-point deficit still qualifies as a one-score game.

Silvers would pass for another touchdown inside the two-minute warning. Rausa, who split his first two attempts, would nail an incredible 55-yard field goal to end the first half. The long distance could go weeks or even seasons without being matched, with such distances being rare (but achievable) even in the NFL.

Instant reaction to the first half was a resounding success.

The only issue that seemed to split fans (myself included) was the sideline interview of players during the game. Defenders kicker Ty Rausa was interviewed directly after missing a 35-yard field goal. It was awkward to say the least.

A Defenders defender (which sounds odd but correct to say,) dropped the F-word in a heated moment after committing a personal foul.

Obviously, there are people that find this kind of raw human interaction on the sidelines entertaining. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t add an extra layer of entertainment to the viewing experience. Sideline interviews also give us a chance to learn more about the players and the things they go through over the course of a professional football game.

But if the XFL intends to be viewed as such, a professional football league and suitable alternative to the NFL, the frequency and context of in-game player interviews may need to be reviewed moving forward. During a break in the game, or maybe after a key play that turned out positive for the interviewee? Sure. But interviewing players after negative plays or during stressful situations may cause issues over the course of the season, if it hasn’t already.

Back to the game, the offenses started to heat up in the second half, figuring out the weak spots in the opposing defenses.

The Defenders would go deep into the playbook, using a handoff and double pitch, back to Jones who would launch a touchdown pass to Khari Lee.

Proehl would find the endzone for his second touchdown catch of the day and Silver’s third passing score of day. As usual, the “safe” 1-point attempt would fail to be converted, and the score would be tied 19-19.

As the back and forth scoring continued, Jones found Rashad Ross for another touchdown, his second aerial touchdown.

This would put the the Defenders up 25-19, but the tides began to turn as Silvers threw a pick-six that would put the Defenders up a couple scores.

Once again, a failed 1-point conversion left D.C. up 31-19. I’m not sure if the ineptitude on these attempts was due to good defense or poor offense, but it continued to baffle me that neither team would at least attempt a 2-point conversion with how unsuccessful the 1-point conversions were.

The afternoon felt like it could go on and be fun for a while, but with a two-score game and the fourth quarter beginning, the conclusion would be drawn soon.

Needing a score, Seattle would initially settle for a field goal to make a 9-point, one-score game. But with D.C. guilty of running into the kicker, the Dragons drive was given more life with less than 8 minutes left to play in the game.

This would create a crucial decision for Dragons coach Jim Zorn: as Seattle faced a 4th-and-1 inside the Defenders 5-yard line. A field goal would still create the same 9-point, potentially one-score, scenario that Seattle had a moment ago. But with XXX left to play, and the possibility of more Defenders scores, going for it would be the most logical choice.

The decision to go for it would prove fruitful, but then Silvers would fumble the ball away two plays later, with 5:20 left in the game. It was a late blemish on an otherwise impressive passing day from the quarterback, who played his college ball at Troy.

The Dragons defense would get the ball back in the hands of Silvers and the offense, with the same 31-19 score and 2:33 to play. Seattle’s offense would ultimately fall short on 4th-and-15, with backup quarterback and former Packers quarterback B.J. Daniels delivering the final pass attempt in desperation.

Stats

Cardale Jones led the Defenders in both passing and nearly in rushing as well, perhaps living up to the “MVP” chants he received on the opening drive. He completed 16-of-26 passes for 291 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no turnovers. On the ground, he carried the ball nine times for 28 yards. Defenders running back Jhurell Pressley tallied 31 yards on 12 carries.

Jones favorite target was Eli Rogers, as the duo hooked up for six catches on six targets and 73 yards gained. Rashad Ross and Khari Lee had the receiving touchdowns for D.C.

Brandon Silvers looked good but had to overcompensate after his pick six changed the pace of the game. He finished 21-of-40 with 219 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks. Austin Proehl had five catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

Header Photo Credit: XFL.com

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