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Apollos got swagger back Saturday in AAF action

Florida Football Insiders

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The first place Orlando Apollos in the AAF Spring league were looking to bounce back after their first loss of the season at home a week ago to Arizona. And, they were playing a familiar division foe in Atlanta and at the end of 60 minutes, Orlando made quite a statement about bouncing back.

Quarterback Garrett Gilbert was 19 – 23 for 217 yards and a touchdown and running back De’Veon Smith powered in three more rushing touchdowns, as the Apollo’s blew out the Legends for the second time this season 36 – 6.

In the process, Steve Spurrier’s team became the first Alliance franchise to clinch a playoff spot at 6 – 1 with three games remaining in the 10 game schedule.

Orlando established the lead, when Smith got the first of his TD’s on a 1-yard run and then picked up the two point conversion right after to make the game 8 – 0.

Gilbert was brilliant at times going 16 – 20 for 154 yards in the first half. However, he was outdone by former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray for Atlanta going 9 for 9 including a touchdown, as they trailed only 14 – 6 at the break.

Then, the Apollos defense tightened up by intercepting Murray twice in the second half, including this back-breaking “pick six by defense back Deji Olatoye, who did the rest:

Then, Smith scored on the third of his short touchdown runs, and the Apollos built the 36-6 advantage in the fourth quarter to cruise to the win.

One constant continues to be Orlando’s balance on offense, as they had 152 yards rushing again on Saturday afternoon, and they tied up almost 33 minutes in time of possession.

The Apollos have opened up a game-and-a-half lead over Birmingham in the Eastern Conference. And with the loss, and the fact that the Apollos have beaten Atlanta twice, the Legends now have five losses and can’t catch Orlando for a spot in the postseason.

The Apollo’s will play at Memphis next Saturday. The Express just signed former Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, and he’s expected to make his AAF debut when Memphis hosts Birmingham Sunday night.

The AAF will have four teams advance to the postseason with the top seeded team in each conference hosting a playoff game. Then the two teams will meet at a new Championship site announced this week, the Dallas Cowboys “Star” practice facility in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday night April 27th for the first-ever AAF Title.

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Time for concern after XFL TV ratings declined again last week?

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive week, the XFL televison ratings continued to slide in the wrong direction. And, the troubling part is that if the trend continues, the XFL will have no leverage for sponsors and revenue to keep it going long term.

First, here are the specifics on the bad viewership news: According to Showbuzzdaily.com all four XFL broadcasts last Saturday and Sunday afternoon had lower ratings in their slot than the previous week.

That includes the Tampa Bay Vipers home debut against Houston, which was the early game on ABC Saturday. And, while that window had 400,000 less viewers than week 2, the bigger concern is ABC has lost almost 40% of the audience from the 3.3 million average that watched their Week one debut game on Saturday afternoon.

The ratings downward trend is following the same pattern as last Spring’s Alliance of American Football, where the ratings dwindled to under a million fans for broadcasts by week five and eventually the league shut down after just eight weeks. This was in part because of concerns on how the AAF could make any revenue, through television in specific, if they had very little audience for the end of year one and to sell off of for year two.

Now, WWE owner Vince McMahon, who folded the XFL the first time in 2001 in large part because the television audience plummeted over the course of the first month or so of its existence and never recovered, has the same issue in 2020.

And, as we wrote previously, this audience decline while negative is far less McMahon’s original XFL and it’s first season of 2001.  That’s when, it debuted on its first Saturday night on NBC with a massive 10.1 rating, which translated 18 years ago to more than 9.5 viewers on network TV. A Smashing success.

However, the XFL’s ratings plummeted starting the following week and had fewer than 25% of that opening night audience just a month later with the games still being shown on a Saturday night coveted slot on NBC. It doomed the league from a P.R. and sponsor standpoint and McMahon pulled the plug.

Now, in 2020, McMahon reportedly has money to burn and is apparently prepared to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in year one. So, even if the XFL TV ratings continue come down significantly, it will not spell the end of the XFL (like it did nearly 20 years ago) after just a single season.

At least, that’s what we think.

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Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener

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Mary Holt- USA Today Sports

Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.

Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.

The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.

However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.

Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.

Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.

The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.

Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.

The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.

The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.

However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.

And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.

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