Tampa Bay Vipers start the season snakebitten

by Ben Jansen

After nearly 19 years away, the second iteration of Vince McMahons’s has returned to the spotlight, having a successful first two weeks of its second stint. There is one major change to the league. However, as for the first time a team from Tampa is playing under the XFL banner. Led by former NFL Head Coach Marc Trestman, and plenty of NFL-caliber talent, people around the league expected a successful season from the Vipers in their inaugural campaign. 

Despite being one of the favorites to win the league championship in the preseason, it has been a difficult start to the franchise’s first few games. To open the season, the Vipers traveled to Metlife Stadium in New Jersey for a matchup against the New York Guardians as the XFL opened its season on Sunday, Feb. 8. The Vipers were dominated by the Guardians in a 23-3 loss. 

Led by former University of Georgia quarterback and Tampa-native, Aaron Murray, the Vipers offense struggled all game. Even though they gained 400 yards as a team on offense, they failed to turn that into points, putting only one field goal on the board. The Vipers struggled, allowing five quarterback sacks and three turnovers on offense while forcing no sacks or turnovers when on defense. 

“If you turn the ball over three times and the other team doesn’t turn over, it’s simple,” said starting QB Aaron Murray, who was injured in the loss.

With Murray out, Coach Trestman turned to QBs Taylor Cornelius and Quinton Flowers as Tampa Bay traveled west to play against the Seattle Dragons. With the starting QB out, the running backs saw their fair share of work, as Jacques Patrick and De’Veon Smith combined for 150 yards on the ground. 

The Vipers scored their first touchdown in franchise history in an unexpected fashion, when Tarvarus McFadden returned an interception for the only Tampa Bay touchdown of the game as the Vipers fell by a score of 17-9. The game set the young XFL attendance record, drawing 29,000 fans to Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.

After two road games to start the year the Vipers return home as one of two teams in the league yet to play a home game. 

“As far as the Vipers go, I got a locker room full of guys who can’t wait to get home and play at Raymond James this week. I can tell you that,” said Marc Trestman after the game. “Offensively, we just haven’t found ourselves. We haven’t had the play at quarterback that we need, and we’re still working through that. And we need to find a way to score.”

The offensive struggles are no secret to anybody on the team. Quinton Flowers, who has attempted nine passes and rushed ten times this year, complimented his defense and took blame on behalf of the offense saying, “We have to play better ball on offense. The defense went out and played great. They played great at the end of the day, but we keep getting in the red zone. We have to score. We have to find a way to score.”

As the Vipers return home looking to right the ship, the XFL is marketing themselves as playing  “for the love of football.” While the XFL may not be as high-quality football as the NFL, the league knows exactly what it is. The league will never topple the NFL as the top football league in the world, but it doesn’t want to. It knows that it is simply an alternative for hardcore fans who love the game while satisfying diehard football fans until the NFL returns. When the Vipers make their home debut on Saturday, Feb. 22 against the Houston Roughnecks, fans can expect a quick, fun football experience for those who love the sport.

Ben Jansen can be reached at benjamin.jansen@spartans.ut.edu



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