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XFL Week 1: Studs and duds from Sunday’s action

Jesse Reed
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After a couple of fun games Saturday, XFL Week 1 continued with two more contests on Sunday to close out the debut weekend.

The New York Guardians dominated the Tampa Bay Vipers in the early game Sunday, which saw a former Georgia star struggle in a big way. Later in the evening, the St. Louis BattleHawks and Dallas Renegades put on a show that had to make the XFL executives a bit nervous, with the road team grinding out a 15-9 slog of a win.

These are the biggest studs and duds from Sunday’s XFL Week 1 action.

Stud: Dan Williams, WR, Tampa Bay Vipers

Tampa Bay’s offense, on the whole, was an abject disaster. The one standout on an otherwise miserable day was receiver Dan Williams, who came up with a couple of the biggest plays of the game in the fourth quarter.

Williams hauled in six of the nine passes that came his way Sunday for the Vipers, racking up 123 yards in the process.

Dud: Aaron Murray, QB, Tampa Bay Vipers

A former starter at the University of Georgia, Murray never registered any regular-season stats in three seasons after being selected in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He entered XFL Week 1 as the starting quarterback for the Vipers, but after what he did Sunday that may not stick for long.

Murray was consistently inaccurate, and he made extremely poor decisions even when there was plenty of time and no pressure in his face.

All told, the quarterback finished with 231 yards on 16-of-34 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions. Even his one huge 42-yard completion in the fourth quarter was an awful throw. He was arguably the worst starting quarterback of any team in XFL Week 1.

Stud: Bunmi Rotimi Jr., DE, New York Guardians

Leading a dominant defensive effort, defensive end Bunmi Rotimi Jr. had a huge game for the Guardians. A former undrafted free agent who spent time with the Chicago Bears organization, he never registered any official stats at the NFL level. That may change after what the former Old Dominion star did Sunday.

Rotimi racked up seven solo tackles, two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, a sack and a forced fumble. He was a force to be reckoned with and is a player we’ll be watching in the weeks to come.

Dud: Marc Trestman, HC, Tampa Bay Vipers

A respected offensive coach who’s competed at the highest level, Marc Trestman did not have his team ready to compete Sunday. In all three phases of the game, the Vipers were outclassed by the Guardians. In fact, the highlight of the game centered around what their defensive coordinator was wearing, rather than the play on the field.

Even worse, when it was crystal clear that Murray wasn’t going to be effective, Trestman continued to roll out the quarterback despite the fact that Quentin Flowers was much more effective at moving the chains and creating positive momentum. And as a final straw, the coach’s decision to kick a field goal, down 17-0 in the second half, was extremely weak and rightly ripped by fans watching at home.

Stud: Jordan Ta’amu, QB, St. Louis BattleHawks

The BattleHawks didn’t do a ton on offense throughout Sunday’s game. But a key stretch in the fourth quarter both won the game and showcased why the St. Louis offense will be a fun one to track throughout the 2020 season.

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, an undrafted rookie last year out of Ole Miss, turned the game on its head. First, he scrambled up the middle of the field for 37 yards to put the BattleHawks in scoring range. Then, he hit Alonzo Russell for his first career touchdown pass.

Making big plays when his team needed him the most, Ta’amu showed he’s a player to watch the rest of the season. He finished Sunday’s game with 286 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage, and he pretty much won the game.

Dud: Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Dallas Renegades

One of the more recognizable names playing Sunday evening, Renegades running back Cameron Artis-Payne had a game to forget. A guy who averaged nearly 4.5 yards per touch in four years at the NFL level, he looked slow and indecisive.

The end result was a grand total of 19 yards on six touches from scrimmage for an average of 3.17 yards per touch. He was vastly outplayed by teammate Lance Dunbar — another name some may remember from the NFL — and doesn’t look to have a large role in Dallas’ offense going forward.

Stud: Marquette King, P, St. Louis BattleHawks

There wasn’t a heck of a lot of offense going on for much of Sunday’s game, so punter Marquette King was called to action quite a bit. Just like he did so often during his NFL career, King delivered some boomers.

His masterpiece in the third quarter should have resulted in perfect field position for St. Louis’ defense, but a bone-headed decision ruined one of the best punts we’ve ever seen.

King’s ability to flip the field helped the BattleHawks win this game. Period.

Dud: Finale falls well short

Saturday’s action was a lot of fun. The first game Sunday was one-sided but at least gave fans some tantalizing action to enjoy. Then, to close out the weekend and say goodbye to XFL Week 1, the St. Louis BattleHawks and Dallas Renegades put fans to sleep with an exceptionally boring game.

Even before the game began, some of the luster had been worn off when it was announced Landry Jones would be out with an injury, thrusting underwear model Philip Nelson into the spotlight. Nelson didn’t play poorly, but everything the Renegades did offensively was dink and dunk. Both teams were stronger defensively, big plays on the offensive side were hard to come by, and the result was a 15-9 yawnfest.

Just exactly the way the XFL did not want this weekend to end.