The USFL’s first weekend of games isn’t quite over yet. Sunday’s triple header took a hit due to weather in Birmingham, Alabama. It started when Game 1 between the Michigan Panthers and the Houston Gamblers was delayed an hour and ended with the nightcap between the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Pittsburgh Maulers being postponed (game will now play Monday at 7 p.m. ET).
The two games played on Sunday did not disappoint. The first saw the Houston Gamblers narrowly fend off a furious comeback from the Michigan Panthers, whose supposedly game-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 loss — part of the nine fumbles Michigan had that day .
In the second of three scheduled games on Sunday – before the postponement – the New Orleans Breakers took advantage of first-half errors made by the Philadelphia Stars to take an early lead, then found their offensive flow in the second half and held firm in a 23- 17 win. Jordan Ellis hit the two-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter, giving 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 42 yards to tie the game in the third quarter as the Stars scored 10 points in the quarter.
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Errors doomed Philadelphia throughout the afternoon. Stars quarterback Bryan Scott threw an interception to Vontae Diggs that was returned 37 yards for a touchdown to give the Breakers a 7-0 lead. 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.
We had already seen a thriller when the Birmingham Stallions won the season opener on Saturday night, and Sunday’s two games were equally close. All three winners so far have come from the league’s Southern Division – here’s a look at the standings – and all scores were within six points. Here’s a look at Sunday’s slate scores:
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 matches (you can relive the 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 scored zero in the first half, using a fumble from Shea Patterson and another fumble from Paxton Lynch to score two touchdowns that gave a 17- 0 at halftime. Michigan had nine fumbles in the loss, two lost by quarterbacks who put them down to a two-possession deficit (in the USFL, a team can score up to nine points on one possession).
Why the Michigan Panthers lost
The Panthers had three fumbles in the second quarter, highlighting the quarterback’s inconsistent 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 first half mistakes.
Why the New Orleans Breakers won
Give the New Orleans offense credit for finding their rhythm in the second half after going scoreless on their first six possessions. The Breakers exhausted a Stars defense on the ground, rushing for 171 yards and two touchdowns en route to scoring touchdowns on consecutive possessions for the win; 58 of those rushing yards came in those two scoring practices.
Why the Philadelphia Stars lost
Special teams mistakes 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 any offensive progress Philadelphia made in the first half. Bryan Scott also threw a returned interception for a touchdown to put the Stars down 7-0 early in the game. The Stars gave the Breakers nine points and missed a chance for six of them on offense. They lost by six.
game of the day
The Gamblers held a 3-0 lead with the Panthers driving into the red zone before defensive end Ahmad Gooden forced a fumble from Shea Patterson as Reggie Northrup took the 87-yard recovery the other way for the score and gave Houston an 11-0 lead to start the second quarter.
Patterson stumbled to start the game, but Gooden took advantage of the situation. He finished with three forced fumbles and two sacks.
The Panthers (0-1) face the New Jersey Generals (0-1) Friday night at 8 p.m. while the Gamblers (1-0) face the Birmingham Stallions (1-0) Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. The Stars (0-1) face the Pittsburgh Maulers (0-0) Saturday at noon ET while the Breakers (1-0) face the Tampa Bay Bandits Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. All USFL regular season games are played in Birmingham, Alabama.