Best & Worst: Defenders vs. Dragons
WASHINGTON -- On Saturday, the DC Defenders made history. The area's newest pro football team hosted the first XFL game of the 2020 season and the first professional outdoor football game in Washington, D.C., since 1996.
The Defenders prevailed in Week 1 with a 31-19 win over the Seattle Dragons in front of over 17,000 fans at Audi Field.
The first game in franchise history didn't meet expectations, it exceeded expectations with flying colors.
Best & Worst from Defenders vs. Dragons
1. BEST: The Fans
Honestly, we had no idea what to expect from Game 1. We knew Audi Field was the best venue in the XFL, and we knew there would be a lot of people in the stadium.
What we did not expect was the pure, unadulterated passion and excitement from the fans. It can take years to build up and establish a connection with the fanbase. Rewind to early October and there was no uniform and no players on the roster -- just a coach and a logo.
When the Dragons took the fields on Saturday, a chorus of boos rained down from the crowd. When Cardale Jones found Rashad Ross for the first first down in team history, chants of "M-V-P" broke out. All 17,000 patrons joined together to start "The Wave," which lasted over seven minutes. There were costumes, signs, and a sense of team unity that you can't fake.
Saturday, Feb. 8, was awesome, and we have you, the fans, to thank.
1. WORST: The First Quarter
For a first-time product, Week 1 between the DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons exceeded expectations, but not without a rocky start. The first drive of the game was a three-and-out by the Dragons, followed by a Seattle injury on the punt return.
The Defenders responded with a lengthy drive that ate up 5:19 on the play clock, but had just one play of more than nine yards and ended with just three points on a 34-yard field goal from Ty Rausa, plus another Seattle injury during the attempt.
The fans were ready to erupt, but an anticlimactic field goal, coupled with an injury timeout and a quick Dragons touchdown on the next drive nearly took all the wind out of the sails of the raucous Defenders crowd.
2. BEST: Trickeration
Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton is an offensive guru, and it did not take long for fans in attendance and watching at home to notice.
The first major moment of the 2020 XFL season occurred early in the third quarter when Jones handed the ball to running back Donnel Pumphrey on a draw, who pitched it to wide receiver Eli Rogers on the reverse, who pitched it back to Jones, who found tight end Khari Lee downfield for a 39-yard double-reverse, flea-flicker touchdown.
2. WORST: The Run Game
Roughly half of the Defenders' offensive plays were rushing attempts, yet the team finished with just 68 yards on 28 attempts. Five of the Defenders' carries resulted in a tackle for loss.
Jhurell Pressley led the way with 12 attempts for 31 yards, with a 14-yard scamper being the longest of the day.
The Dragons were better on the ground, but not exactly spectacular. Seattle finished with 97 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Kenneth Farrow led the way with 41 yards on seven attempts with the longest of the day being 19 yards.
Neither team scored an offensive rushing touchdown, although Donnel Pumphrey scored a one-point conversion. The speed of the XFL game places added importance on picking up larger chunks of yardage per play, thus devaluing traditional north-south running attacks.
That's not to say that the run game can't be effective, but it's going to take time to figure out.
3. BEST: Big Plays
The Defenders and Dragons combined for seven touchdowns on Saturday. All seven chewed up at least 10 yards, and nearly all seven were Top 10 highlight-worthy.
Jones' 31-yard touchdown pass to Ross in the third quarter was the least memorable of the game, which should tell you just how crazy the rest of the scoring plays went for the home team.
Not only did the Defenders score on a double reverse flea-flicker, but Elijah Campbell's blocked punt led to Jonathan Celestin scooping and scoring for a 10-yard special teams touchdown and a 9-6 first quarter lead.
Not to be left out was the Defenders' defense, which iced the game in the fourth quarter when cornerback Bradley Sylve jumped Austin Proehl's route, intercepting Dragons quarterback Brandon Silvers and returning it 69 yards for the touchdown.
Proehl caught two touchdowns for the Dragons, a 14-yarder over the middle in the first quarter to give Seattle a 6-3 lead, and a slant pass in the third quarter which Proehl turned into a 57-yard score, evening the score 19-19 in the third quarter.
The Dragons also scored on a 13-yard pass from Silvers to Trey Williams in the second quarter.
3. WORST: The Wait
The first game in DC Defenders history was a wild success. Certainly, areas to improve upon, but the feeling after the game was that all parties involved cannot wait to do it again.
The good news is that the Defenders are back at Audi Field in Week 2 to face the New York Guardians, Week 1 winners over the Tampa Bay Vipers 23-3.
The bad news is we have to wait six more days to pack Audi Field and raise our shield for the Defenders.