Last Friday, the Tampa Bay Bandits took on the Michigan Panthers in what proved to be a tight matchup. Both teams had their flashes of greatness, and it was Tampa Bay who came out on top. This game was the first of several nail-biters in week five, a theme that is becoming more common as the USFL season progresses.
For the victorious Bandits, it was quarterback Jordan Ta’amu who led the way on offense. The Ole Miss product and XFL standout had arguably his best performance of the season thus far, completing 15 of 24 passes for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also added 27 yards on the ground, with efficiency being the only issue (3.0 yards per carry).
On the receiving end of a third of those passes was John Franklin III, a former quarterback featured on the Netflix series Last Chance U. Franklin finished the night with 5 catches for 81 yards and a touchdown, exploding onto the scene after being quiet in previous games. However, the best play came from another receiver in Derrick Dillon, who scored a 50-yard touchdown to help give the team a confidence boost.
On defense, linebacker Christian Sam demonstrated his versatility, recording 7 tackles (6 solo), 3 pass deflections, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 interception. Another linebacker, Greg Reaves, recorded 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss of his own. Tampa’s defensive unit has been “middle-of-the-pack” so far from a statistical standpoint, but there seems to be a few new playmakers that emerge every week.
From the Panthers’ perspective, this was yet another frustrating loss in what has been a pretty frustrating season. There have been multiple times where the team seemed to be in a position to win, but couldn’t get the job done at the last second. The coaching staff and roster are both general strengths, but poor execution in key/pivotal moments has nearly killed the hope of reaching playoffs.
Quarterback Shea Patterson also had what may have been his best performance of the season, showing his ability to spread the ball across the field to multiple pass-catchers. However, it wasn’t enough to keep up with the opposition’s accuracy and deep shots.
This game was a must-win for both teams, but of course, it can only go in the direction of one. While the Bandits will continue to find consistency and rhythm (which was displayed nicely on Friday), the Panthers are going to have to make some changes in order to pull themselves out of the hole.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be getting any easier, as they will face the undefeated Birmingham Stallions in week six. Tampa has a more intriguing matchup against the 2-3 Philadelphia Stars, who are also in a similar position of finding consistency and rhythm at the seasons’ halfway point. All in all, the week five opener once again showed fans that the USFL is a legitimate product with legitimate talent.