After a 21-18 loss to the Birmingham Stallions almost two weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Bandits wrapped up what ultimately turned out to be a disappointing first season. While they were far from the worst team in the league, Tampa Bay repeatedly failed to turn up when it mattered most, costing them a spot in the playoffs and leaving plenty of questions on the table heading into year two.
During their week 10 matchup against the Stallions, Tampa Bay had a pretty average performance, something that had been seen frequently throughout the season. Jordan Ta’amu spread the ball around to multiple receivers, the run game lightly complemented the pass game, and the defense had the usual few standouts. However, it wasn’t quite enough to compete with the Birmingham Stallions, a division rival who had dominated the USFL up to that point. As it stands now, the Stallions will take on the Philadelphia Stars in the championship game this weekend.
One of Tampa Bay’s greatest strengths was their roster, and they didn’t have to make many roster moves throughout the season (atleast not impactful ones). The team seemed like one of the most complete in the league from week 1, but unfortunately, this narrative began to shift as time went on. Of course, the centerpiece of this team was quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who has been frequently mentioned in articles on this site and elsewhere.
For fans of the XFL in 2020, Ta’amu was viewed as one of the league’s best passers, and many thought that success would carry over into the USFL. However, two years away from organized professional football didn’t do too many favors. At 24 years old, Ta’amu still has a bright future ahead of him, but is still in a somewhat developmental phase of his career. He was a serviceable option through 10 weeks, and given that most quarterback play across the league can be described as “inconsistent” or “unstable,” Ta’amu did last the test of time. It wasn’t always amazing, but the Bandits could have been in a far worse position if they didn’t draft him second overall.
The best way Tampa Bay’s struggles can be described comes in part from the pandemic. Many of the players, just like Ta’amu, had spent a significant time away from football before joining the USFL. Perhaps they had stints in NFL or CFL camps, but very few had significant playing time in one league or another.
Even a regular season that’s only 10 weeks long requires a lot of commitment and skill from the players, and while there was enough of that on display, it didn’t compare to what some other teams had created. Given that the team was brought together in such a short period of time, it was likely hard to create a rhythm of sorts, a lot of which can be judged by the on-field product.
That will never be easy in a new league, but it certainly isn’t impossible. What it really comes down to is how long the teams had to prepare, which stems beyond the Bandits organization.
In terms of preparing for year two, there’s honestly not a lot the Bandits should change. Yes, they finished below .500 and didn’t live up to original expectations, but there was plenty to like. Head coach Todd Haley brought valuable experience from his NFL days, and should continue to build this team up to a higher standard. There were plenty of times where Tampa Bay was on the verge of winning, and this team could easily be at the top of their division if they learn to stay consistent through four quarters.
The roster may look a bit different in 2023, but now that a full season has been completed, there will be a better understanding of what needs to be done and more changes to grow.
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