After a strong first half, the Houston Gamblers faltered and lost their season-opening game to the Michigan Panthers 29-13.
It was a tale of two halves for the Gamblers. After allowing a touchdown on their opening drive on defense, the offense got their footing, and quarterback Kenji Bahar leads a 12-play drive capped by a T.J. Pledger one-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 6-6. The Gamblers’ offense once again responded to a Panthers score after Michigan’s Joe Walker muffed a punt return giving Houston the ball at the Panthers’ 17-yard line. Pledger took advantage of the short field and scored from two yards out giving the Gamblers a 13-9 lead at halftime.
The second half of the game was a disaster for Houston as four of their five drives ended in turnovers. Two fumbles and two interceptions for Houston in the second half while Michigan scored 20 unanswered points to secure the 29-13 win for the Panthers. While the Gamblers won the time of possession, they were outgained offensively by 133 yards with four turnovers.
Houston moves to 0-1 on the season as they scored the second-least number of points of any team in the USFL besides the New Jersey Generals. They fall to last in the division joining the Memphis Showboats who also lost their opener against the Philadelphia Stars.
Key Observations from Houston Gamblers Loss
Kenji Bahar Struggles in Start
With all the players returning to the offense for Houston, one question mark came in how Kenji Bahar would perform as “the” guy at quarterback. Fans got a glimpse into that as Bahar performed decently in the first half, but it all went off the rails in the second half. He finished the game with 109 passing yards and 16 rushing yards with three total turnovers.
In the first half, he seemed in better control with the short passing game as he was able to see the field better. The second half seemed like he lost confidence after being sacked four times and pressured multiple times. Nothing went right for Bahar at his start.
Moving forward, fans saw backup quarterback Terry Wilson for a bit so it might lead to Wilson getting more playing time at quarterback. There’s a possibility that Wilson and Bahar might split reps and see which one plays better. It’s one of those situations where Bahar needs more time to get into the flow of the offense, but if things don’t improve quickly, a quarterback might come sooner than expected.
Defense Struggles in Loss
The first half was impressive as the Houston defense was able to contain the ground game and held them to nine points. Their second half got much worse as a lot of that was contributed to the offensive mistakes but missed tackles and broken coverages led to some big plays. It was a comedy of errors for the defense.
A couple of standouts for the Gamblers on defense were linebacker Khalan Tolson and defensive tackle Chigozie Nnoruka. Tolson was all over the field leading the team with eight tackles and one tackle for loss as he was a big part of the rushing attack slowing down. Nnoruka was a beast in the middle pushing his way to six tackles and one tackle for loss. They both played well for Houston.
This was always a concern heading into the season to see how this defense would be fair with most of the players from the 2022 roster not returning. There will be more players who need to step up for Houston if they want to be in contention this season, but it’s a group effort. And the effort was the worst in the league allowing a USFL-high 29 points and causing only three total incompletions in the game.