XFL Week 1 grades, scores: D.C. Defenders, Houston Roughnecks get top marks, Hines Ward's Brahmas fizzle late

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Week 1 of the 2023 XFL season is in the books, and it was quite an entertaining weekend of football, as three of the four games went down to the wire. 

On Sunday, the St. Louis Battlehawks and San Antonio Brahmas gave us an early candidate for game of the year, as A.J. McCarron shook off his early struggles and scored 15 straight points in the final 1:30 to defeat the Brahmas, 18-15. He hit Austin Proehl for the successful three-point conversion after the first touchdown, and then went right back to Proehl for the fourth-and-15 conversion -- which is the XFL's version of an onside kick. Five plays later, McCarron hit Proehl for the game-winning 13-yard touchdown. It was absolute madness.

To close out Week 1 on Sunday night, we saw another second-half comeback as the D.C. Defenders scored 14 straight points to drown Ben DiNucci and the Seattle Sea Dragons, 22-18. Gregg Williams' defense was playing on another level in that second half, and forced a fumble at the goal line with just seconds left on what could have been a Sea Dragons game-winning drive. Additionally, the Defenders may have the best home-field advantage in the entire XFL.

On Saturday, the Arlington Renegades kicked off the XFL season with a wild comeback, utilizing a 19-6 run in the second half to defeat Luis Perez and the Vegas Vipers. Later, the Houston Roughnecks showed they may be the early-season favorite with a dominant, 33-12 win over the Orlando Guardians. 

Here are our grades for each team (check out much more on our XFL page including the schedule and scores, standings and rosters.


D.C. Defenders 22-18 over Seattle Sea Dragons

C-Seattle Sea Dragons
Some believed Ben DiNucci was set up to lead one of the best offenses in the XFL. With Josh Gordon at wide receiver, how could you not be intrigued? Seattle got off to a hot start on Sunday night with an 11-play, 71-yard touchdown drive on its first possession, and a field goal on its second. However, the Sea Dragons fizzled out as the half went on. The same thing happened in the second half, except on a much larger scale. The Sea Dragons put together an eight-play, 56-yard touchdown drive on their first possession of the third quarter, but then their drive chart went like this: Pick Six. Three-and-out. INT. Three-and-out. Turnover on downs. Fumble. That fumble happened inside the DC 5-yard line, as DiNucci lost possession with the game in the balance. Seattle's offensive line struggled with all the pressure being thrown at the QB, and then the run game picked up just 51 yards on 17 carries. It's difficult to properly evaluate the Sea Dragons since this was the first game of the season and they were in a raucous environment, but a second-half collapse always hurts. At least they weren't the Brahmas.
A-D.C. Defenders
t was a tale of two halves for the Defenders. Early on, it looked like they were about to get blown out, but this D.C. defense stood tall in the second half with three forced turnovers -- including the forced fumble on the goal line stand with just seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. It was just one game, but the Defenders may have to reassess their quarterback situation. Jordan Ta'amu was not very good, as he completed 8 of 19 passes for 86 yards and one interception. He's more capable as a passer than the dual-threat D'Eriq King, but D.C. appears to be a team that wants to run the ball. Expect both signal-callers to play moving forward. What really stood out about the Defenders was their fans. They showed up ready to break the world record for longest beer snake, and when stadium security halted their progress, the rowdy group threw lemons on the field and forced play to be stopped. Pounding beers shirtless at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night is what the XFL is about.

Sea Dragons-Defenders grades by Jordan Dajani

St. Louis BattleHawks 18-15 over San Antonio Brahmas

B+St. Louis Battlehawks
For much of Sunday's opener, the BattleHawks were on track for a hearty 'D+.' Aside from linebacker Travis Feeney nearly scoring on his own strip-sack recovery, St. Louis looked lifeless until the fourth quarter. But then A.J. McCarron and Austin Proehl served up NFL-caliber theatrics when it mattered most: the former was pinpoint accurate, repeatedly hitting Austin Proehl on tight-window and sideline throws to erase a 12-point deficit with three minutes left. Brian Hill's powerful burst on the ground also contributed, and coach Anthony Becht sealed the deal with critical crunch-time decisions, like going for a fourth-and-15 instead of trying an onside kick, and electing to try a three-point play to pull within three. Consider that they also allowed just 15 points, and this was an unusual but encouraging start for the renewed franchise.
CSan Antonio Brahmas
Hines Ward's squad was content to play ugly, old-school football, and for a while, it worked. Despite shoddy offensive output from quarterback Jack Coan and Co., with former Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage a steady but unspectacular ball-carrier, San Antonio's "D" kept the Battlehawks under wraps for roughly 57 of the game's 60 minutes. Then it all fell apart. The Brahmas secondary simply could not locate the ball on the final drives, even in tight coverage, and worse yet, Coan's side of the ball did too little, too late, padding a lead thanks to a pretty TD catch by Fred Brown but failing to control the ball and clock in the waning minutes. They've got a defensive foundation to build on, sure, but the collapse will sting for a while.

BattleHawks-Brahmas grades by Cody Benjamin


Las Vegas Renegades 22-20 over Las Vegas Vipers

CLas Vegas Vipers
A promising start for the Vipers turned into a disaster. Quarterback Luis Perez was red hot to start the game, going 8-for-9 on the first drive with a touchdown and ended up throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Badert later to give the Vipers a 14-3 lead at halftime. Vegas would have cruised to this victory if Perez and the offense didn't implode. Two giveaways on consecutive plays in the third quarter led to 10 points by the Renegades to get Arlington back in the game. Those followed with a missed block on a punt attempt led to a special teams miscue, followed by Perez throwing an interception to De'Vante Bausby that was returned for a touchdown. Four second-half miscues led to 20 points for Arlington, which didn't have an offensive touchdown in the game. Vegas has a legit defense, but the offense literally gave away the game after a great start. If the offense doesn't have only 14 yards in the second half before the final hurry-up drive, the Vipers are 1-0.
B-Arlington Renegades
The Renegades got back into this football game the hard way, scoring two defensive touchdowns in the second half to rally from a 14-3 first half deficit where the offense couldn't get anything going. Quarterback Drew Plitt wasn't good, but his lone blemish didn't cost his team, unlike the two interceptions Luis Perez threw. Plitt stayed steady in the second half, even if his team couldn't score an offensive touchdown. The defense held Vegas to just 57 yards in the second half and scored 14 points, the reason why Arlington walked out of the opener 1-0. The Renegades just didn't make the same amount of miscues Vegas did and they were able to use a strong defense that struggled early to come away with a win. T.J. Barnes had the sack on Luis Perez on the two-point conversion attempt with eight second left to preserve the win, just one of many clutch plays by the Arlington defense. Based on the second half in the opener, the Renegades defense is going to be a problem in 2023.

Renegades-Vipers grades by Jeff Kerr

Houston Roughnecks 33-12 over Orlando Guardians

AHouston Roughnecks
It's hard to have a better debut than the one Roughnecks coach Wade Phillips' team had on Saturday night. After giving up a touchdown on the game's opening drive, Houston proceeded to score 33 of the game's final 39 points. Big plays on both sides of the ball led to the Roughnecks' season-opening win. Houston's biggest star on offense was former Eagles wideout Deontay Burnett, who caught eight passes for 90 yards that included a 46-yard touchdown catch that put the Roughnecks in front for good. Defensively, the Roughnecks roughed up the Guardians to the tune of seven sacks and three interceptions. Trent Harris, who started in several games for the Giants from 2019-21, led the way with four sacks. Houston, by the way, hasn't lost in the XFL, as it was the only perfect 5-0 team before the 2020 season was canceled.
DOrlando Guardians
Orlando's defensive effort in the second half is the only reason why the Guardians didn't get an F. The Guardians' offense failed to cash in on their defense getting two interceptions in the third quarter. Give coach Terrell Buckley credit, however, for benching former NFL first-round pick Paxton Lynch after his pick late in the third quarter. His backup, Quinten Dormady, threw a touchdown pass, but it was too little too late. Lynch's poor play, subpar pass protection from the offensive line, big plays allowed but its defense and a lack of commitment to the running game were among Orlando's biggest miscues on Saturday night. They did receive several strong individual performances, however, specifically from defensive lineman Jacoby Jones (two sacks) and wideout Andrew Jamiel (three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Roughnecks-Guardians grades by Bryan DeArdo

You can relive all the action from Week 1 in our live blog below:

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That will do it! The DC Defenders complete the goal-line stand with a forced fumble.

February 20, 2023, 4:15 AM

Did DiNucci fumble at the goal line?!?!

February 20, 2023, 3:48 AM

Pearson is at the one-yard line. 26 seconds remaining. Second and goal. 

February 20, 2023, 3:47 AM

Oh man. Josh Gordon gets open on fourth-and-9, and keeps the potential game-winning drive alive. DiNucci is playing with his hair on fire right now. 

February 20, 2023, 3:45 AM

Defenders opted to go for it on fourth-and-2. King was wrapped up in the backfield. Seattle now takes over with 2:11 near midfield, but the Sea Dragons do not possess a timeout. 

February 20, 2023, 3:38 AM

Ta'amu just threw a TERRIBLE interception. Damn. 

February 20, 2023, 3:25 AM

Tackling has been pretty spotty for both teams tonight. I guess that was to be expected. Either way, it's been a physical game. 

February 20, 2023, 3:20 AM

The Sea Dragons started off the second half with a touchdown, but here's what they did after that first possession:

Pick 6

All four of those drives went exactly three plays. 

February 20, 2023, 3:18 AM

Daniel Joseph of the Sea Dragons is ejected for throwing a gut punch. ESPN did not give us any view of the play. 

February 20, 2023, 3:13 AM

Thins are unraveling quickly for the Dragons from the Sea. DiNucci throws another interception, Smith gives up free yards on a horse-collar penalty and then King rushes it in for the touchdown. Back-to-back-to-back plays. 

Your DC Defenders lead for the first time all evening. Lining up for a two-point conversion. 

February 20, 2023, 3:08 AM

So if you're curious, D'Eriq King definitely brings a different element to the game than Ta'amu, but he's not as polished as a passer. That being said, Ta'amu is wildly inconsistent. I like the change-up. That's something I think continues throughout the year -- for better or for worse. 

February 20, 2023, 3:00 AM

Now Seattle goes three-and-out. Defenders have all the momentum thanks to their fans. 


DEFENDERS PICK SIX. DiNucci was playing with his back to hostile fans, and made a mistake. 


The Defenders fans are going crazy. And there are lemons on the field. 


Fifth three-and-out for the Defenders on six drives. Just bad. 


Defenders down 10 points now. They don't "need" points here but you want to see some rhythm here from Ta'amu and Co. 


DiNucci runs it in, and that's a nine-point score. The Sea Dragons may be onto something with these three-pointers. 


Brenden Knox out of Marshall explodes to the left side and finds himself in the end zone. Looks like everyone got lost in traffic. 13-yard touchdown.

True to form, the Sea Dragons are going for three points. After a penalty, they will try for three five yards closer to the end zone -- from the five-yard line. 


Defenders fail to pick up a first down on their first drive of the second half. Looks like he had Lucky Jackson down the right sideline for a big gain but he couldn't reel it in. 


The Sea Dragons looked like the better team by far in the first quarter, but that has completely flipped now. We've seen some pretty crazy things occur in the second half in the XFL this weekend. What's in store tonight?


Interesting. DiNucci basically said that Seattle will go for three points on any TD it scores. 


HALFTIME: Sea Dragons 9, Defenders 8

Total yards: SEA 177 DC 97
First downs: SEA 11 DC 6

Ben DiNucci: 17/22 149 yds 1 TD
Morgan Ellison: 3 carries 17 yds
Jahcour Pearson: 6 catches 67 yards
Josh Gordon: 3 catches for 23 yards

Jordan Ta'amu: 7/12 78 yds
Josh Malone: 1 catch 18 yards

Defenders had six different players catch a pass in the second half. Lucky Jackson was the only one who caught more than one reception (2 for 10 yds)


Eberle misses a 40-yard field goal for the Sea Dragons. Defenders get ball with 43 seconds remaining before halftime. Remember that first downs now stop the clock. 


Ben DiNucci back in. Man, he's so risky with how he plays. With a QB like him, you're going to hit some big plays, but you're also going to turn the ball over. He's afraid of nothing. 


Interesting considering the Sea Dragons scored on their first two possessions. Seattle trying to figure out what they have at QB I guess.


Whoa Stephen Montez in the game for DiNucci. New QB for Seattle. 


It's safe to say the Defenders offense has woken up. D.C. set up a couple of big plays which included a 12-yard gain from Ethan Wolf and 18-yard completion to Josh Malone, and Ta'amu ran it in himself from the five-yard line. Defenders also convert the two-point conversion. 

9-8 Sea Dragons. Here we go. 


Defenders using a lot of RPO early. Ta'amu is usually pretty good with that. Defenders pick up their first first down of the game on a 10 yard pass. 

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