The conclusion of Week 1 of the 2022 USFL season was pushed into Monday, as the Sunday matchup between the Pittsburgh Maulers and Tampa Bay Bandits was postponed due to weather. It gave football fans an offseason taste of Monday night football, and the Bandits escaped with a 17-3 victory.
Tampa Bay jumped out to a quick lead and didn't look back. Sparked by No. 2 overall pick quarterback Jordan Ta'amu, Tampa Bay went 68 yards on eight plays on its first drive, and BJ Emmons punched it in from three yards out for the first score of the game. Ta'amu later found Jordan Lasley for his first USFL touchdown towards the end of the second quarter to push the lead to 17. In all, he completed 18 of 30 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The Maulers started slow but rebounded in the second half to put some good things on tape. Both quarterbacks in Josh Love and Kyle Lauletta played, but Love got the majority of the reps. He finished Week 1 completing 9 of 16 passes for 121 yards. This offense never got into rhythm, though, and went 0 of 3 in the red zone.
Below, we will dive more deeply into what went down in the USFL on Monday night. Here are our takeaways from Saturday night's opener, as well as Sunday's two games, and also be sure to check out the USFL standings and season schedule.
Birmingham Stallions 28, New Jersey Generals 24
Houston Gamblers 17, Michigan Panthers 12
New Orleans Breakers 23, Philadelphia Stars 17
Tampa Bay Bandits 17, Pittsburgh Maulers 3
Why the Bandits won
Coming into this new spring league, everyone was wondering about the quarterback play. The best football teams in any league are carried by their signal-callers, so this week was about finding out who the best throwers would be. Ta'amu had a solid game, as he completed 18 of 30 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He was mostly accurate throwing the ball and made some plays with his legs -- escaping would-be sacks. We didn't get to see the former Ole Miss star push much in the second half due to the Bandits' lead, but overall, he had a solid performance.
Tight end Cheyenne O'Grady looks like he could be a difference maker in this offense. He caught seven of 10 targets for 78 yards.
Another main reason the Bandits found themselves victorious Monday night is that they got great pushes from their offensive and defensive fronts. The Maulers averaged just 2.8 yards per rush, 3.3 yards per play and allowed three sacks. This Pepper Johnson-led Bandits defense looked great.
Why the Maulers lost
The Maulers got off to an incredibly slow start. They played both of their quarterbacks in the first half, yet didn't attempt a pass on their first two drives. The offensive line struggled to pave running lanes for Madre London and Garrett Groshek -- both of whom are exciting when they get a bit of wiggle room. Groshek rushed 16 times for 55 yards.
Pittsburgh loved to run off of play action, and it gave Love great looks on some plays, but turned disastrous on others. Love didn't get a chance to reset and turn his eyes downfield on some of those calls before he had defenders in his face.
The defense was solid in the second half as evidenced by their zero points allowed in the final two quarters, but the offense never found a rhythm.
The Maulers were in the game until the fourth quarter. After a field goal got them within 14, they had some life. Still, Pittsburgh was unable to do anything in the red zone.
On fourth-and-5 from inside Tampa Bay's 10-yard line halfway through the fourth quarter, the Maulers were unable to move the sticks or score that first touchdown. Credit to the Bandits' defense for playing motivated all night long.
Play of the game
The Bandits will serve as the home team against the 1-0 New Orleans Breakers this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. As for the Maulers, they'll serve as the visiting team to the 0-1 Philadelphia Stars on Saturday at noon ET.