Defense shines as Houston remains perfect
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Houston Roughnecks couldn’t have scripted a better open, forcing three turnovers before the first “Texas Throwdown” was less than a quarter old.
The final chapter wasn’t bad either.
The Roughnecks turned their first four takeaways into 21 points and closed the door late with another, and in the process took control of the West by outlasting the Dallas Renegades 27-20 on a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at Globe Life Park.
“We talk about those takeaways all the time,” Houston coach June Jones said. “Our defense just kept hanging in there. We needed to score more points while we had our chances to do it with those takeaways.
“It’s a team game and we did enough on both sides the ball to win. I think that’s going to be the start of a pretty good rivalry between Houston and Dallas.”
Houston is the XFL’s only unbeaten team at 4-0, and owns a two-game lead on 2-2 Dallas. (The Los Angeles Wildcats and Seattle Dragons are both 1-3 in the West.) In addition to the loss, the Renegades may have lost quarterback Landry Jones for the season to a knee injury.
While plenty of time remains before the postseason, the Roughnecks have to feel good about their positioning. The way they beat their Lone Star State rivals is also reason for optimism.
Houston continued a season-long trend of generating points off turnovers. Of the Roughnecks’ nine interceptions, six have been converted into scores, including all three picks off Jones on Sunday.
Houston also put the game away with what was ruled a fumble recovery inside its 5-yard line and inside of two minutes, snuffing out a potential Renegades’ go-ahead score. Renegades receiver Flynn Nagel couldn’t control a swing pass from backup quarterback Philip Nelson, and linebacker DeMarquis Gates pulled in the ricochet inches off the turf.
“I was just trying to make a play,” Gates said. “Under two minutes, they were getting down close. It was a seven-point game at the time, so we were just trying to make a stop.”
Outside linebacker Edmond Robinson also added a scoop and score after sacking Jones early in the fourth and knocking the ball loose. The touchdown with 11:37 left put the Roughnecks up by the eventual final score.
The defensive prowess helped overcome an average showing -- at least by his early-season standards -- from Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker. Easily the XFL’s MVP through three weeks, Walker didn’t have to carry the offense on this back this time out.
“I thought the defense played exceptional today. They carried us,” said Walker, who was 25 of 41 passing for 239 yards and two TDs with a pick. “Offensively, we played decent. We have to play better next week.”
Jones and the Renegades did manage to overcome a disastrous opening period. The three picks (two by Deatrick Nichols for a league-leading three this season) came on successive drives, leading to a pair of field goals and Walker’s touchdown pass to Nick Holley for a 15-0 lead.
“It’s been the same thing in all the games,” Jones said. “I have to figure out how not to throw interceptions and put our defense in bad spots, and we would blow people out. It’s very simple.”
Coach Jones credited the early turnover barrage by his opportunistic defense as the scene setter.
“It definitely set the tone,” he said. “It’s disappointing that we only got (15) points on those three takeaways. I thought that was going to come back to haunt us.”
It almost did, as Dallas was only down 15-11 at halftime. Landry Jones had a 12-yard scoring pass to tight end Donald Parham, and they connected again on a 2-point conversion. Austin MacGinnis drilled a 46-yard field goal in the final minute before the break.
The Renegades were driving late in the fourth when Jones was hurt successfully converting a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1. Nelson took over and kept the march moving. Dallas had second-and-goal before its final mistake.
“I find it amazing that with two minutes to go in the game we’re on the 3-yard line with a chance to tie or maybe take the lead after giving up four interceptions and a fumble return for a touchdown,” Dallas coach Bob Stoops said.
The Roughnecks look to get to 5-0 Saturday at home against Seattle. The Renegades remain in search of their first home win Saturday with the New York Guardians coming to town.