USFL Week 1 scores, takeaways: Gamblers, Breakers win close Sunday games; Bandits-Maulers postponed
The USFL's first weekend of games isn't quite finished yet. Sunday's triple-header took a hit due to the weather in Birmingham, Alabama. It started when the first game between the Michigan Panthers and Houston Gamblers was delayed an hour, and concluded with the nightcap between the Tampa Bay Bandits and Pittsburgh Maulers getting postponed (the game will now be played Monday at 7 p.m. ET).
Sunday's two games that were played didn't disappoint. The first saw the Houston Gamblers narrowly hold off a furious comeback by the Michigan Panthers, whose would-be winning touchdown on the final play was juggled incomplete in the end zone. The Gamblers won Sunday's opener 17-12 as Mark Thompson rushed 13 times for 71 yards. Shea Patterson went 17 of 25 for 192 yards and a touchdown for the Panthers, but the quarterback also had three fumbles (losing one) in the defeat -- part of nine fumbles Michigan had on the day.
In Sunday's second of three scheduled games -- before the postponement -- the New Orleans Breakers capitalized off first-half miscues by the Philadelphia Stars to build an early lead, then found their offensive flow in the second half and held on in a 23-17 victory. Jordan Ellis had the go-ahead touchdown run from two yards out to start the fourth quarter that gave the Breakers the lead for good. The Stars faced a 9-0 deficit before rallying to tie the game at 17-17 in the third quarter. Darnell Holland rushed for a 42-yard score to tie the game in the third quarter, as the Stars scored 10 points in the quarter.
Miscues doomed Philadelphia throughout the afternoon. Stars quarterback Bryan Scott threw an interception to Vontae Diggs that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown to put the Breakers up 7-0. New Orleans also blocked a Matt Mengel punt for a safety. Mengal also missed two field goals, one from 45 yards and the other from 44 yards. The Breakers had six sacks in the win, with Davin Bellamy recording three of them.
We had already seen a thriller in the Birmingham Stallions' win in the season opener on Saturday night, and both of Sunday's games were also close. All three victors have been from the league's South Division thus far -- here's a look at the standings -- and all the scores were within six points. Here's a look at the scores through Sunday's slate:
Birmingham Stallions 28, New Jersey Generals 24
Houston Gamblers 17, Michigan Panthers 12 (final)
New Orleans Breakers 23, Philadelphia Stars 17 (final)
Tampa Bay Bandits vs. Pittsburgh Maulers, 7 p.m. ET, FS1, fuboTV (PPD from Sunday due to rain)
Here are our takeaways from Sunday's games (you can relive highlights and updates in the live blog below).
Why the Houston Gamblers won
The Gamblers took advantage of two turnovers by a Panthers offense that failed to score any points in the first half, using a fumble by Shea Patterson and another fumble by Paxton Lynch to score two touchdowns that built a 17-0 lead at halftime. Michigan had nine fumbles in the loss, two lost by the quarterbacks that had them facing a two possession deficit (in the USFL a team can score up to nine points on a possession).
Why the Michigan Panthers lost
The Panthers had three fumbles in the second quarter, highlighting the inconsistent quarterback play throughout the afternoon between Patterson and Lynch. The Panthers actually completed as many passes in the first half as they fumbled (five), which led to 14 points by the Gamblers. The second-half comeback was too big to overcome due to the first-half miscues.
Why the New Orleans Breakers won
Give New Orleans' offense some credit for finding its rhythm in the second half after going scoreless on its first six possessions. The Breakers wore down a Stars defense on the ground, rushing for 171 yards and two touchdowns en route to scoring touchdowns on consecutive possessions for the victory; 58 of those rushing yards came on those two scoring drives.
Why the Philadelphia Stars lost
Special teams miscues cost the Stars in this one. Two missed field goals took six points off the board and a blocked punt led to a safety by the Breakers -- hurting all the offensive progress Philadelphia made in the first half. Bryan Scott also threw an interception returned for a touchdown to put the Stars in a 7-0 hole early in the game. The Stars gave the Breakers nine points and missed an opportunity for six of them on offense. They lost by six.
The Gamblers held a 3-0 lead with the Panthers driving in the red zone before defensive end Ahmad Gooden forced a Shea Patterson fumble as Reggie Northrup took the recovery 87 yards the other way for the score and gave Houston a commanding 11-0 lead to start the second quarter.
Patterson stumbled to start the play, but Gooden took advantage of the situation. He finished with three forced fumbles and two sacks.
The Panthers (0-1) will play the New Jersey Generals (0-1) on Friday night at 8 p.m while the Gamblers (1-0) will play the Birmingham Stallions (1-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. The Stars (0-1) play the Pittsburgh Maulers (0-0) on Saturday at noon ET while the Breakers (1-0) play the Tampa Bay Bandits on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. All games of the USFL's regular season are in Birmingham, Alabama.