As predicted, Tampa Bay got back on track this week, to stay consistent with the inconsistency. After a disappointing loss to Birmingham in week four, the Bandits bounced back in a big way against Michigan. Jordan Ta’amu played a major role in Tampa Bay’s win, looking as sharp as ever. If he can finally find a rhythm, Tampa can absolutely make a playoff push.
The Bandits did an efficient job of improving upon two things this week, which pushed them to victory. Firstly, the ground game was actually present, taking some of the burden off of Ta’amu’s shoulders. Juwan Washington was fantastic, rushing for two scores. Tampa Bay needs more of this as the season continues.
Secondly, the Bandits defense finally won the turnover battle. An interception, followed up by a game-sealing forced fumble turned out to be the difference on Friday night. Todd Haley’s group will have to continue to play at a high level if Tampa Bay wants to win in the second half of the season.
As for Michigan, Jeff Fisher’s team lost another heartbreaker. It’s almost like Michigan is allergic to finishing a football game. Shea Patterson had the game of his life, throwing for over 300 yards – and making the right reads for the first time this year. If this game puts him in a groove, Michigan will become a lot scarier.
Unfortunately, the team had another crucial mistake that lost them the game. Last week, it was a chip-shot field goal off the upright. This time, Cam Scarlett fumbled in the worst possible position, effectively ending Michigan’s night in a bitter way.
To put it simply, Fisher needs to get his team to clean up the mental errors. It didn’t help that their usual fierce rushing attack was essentially nonexistent. If both Patterson and the ground game are on fire at the same time, the Panthers will start to win. It’s up to Fisher to make it happen.
New Jersey put on a show on Saturday afternoon. DeAndre Johnson continues to develop into a shining star, playing at an MVP level for Mike Riley’s Generals. His ability to improve as a pure passer, alongside the threat he provides to New Jersey’s offense as a rusher, make him the clear QB1. This week Luis Perez didn’t even see the field, which turned out to be the right decision, as Johnson was sensational.
Watching the development of @DredaDon14 throughout the #USFL's season so far has been extremely satisfying. His growth as a passer has been crucial to New Jersey's success. Wouldn't surprise me to see Johnson get an NFL look after this season. Playing like an MVP! #USFLhttps://t.co/qWfqcA1mxt
Darius Victor is the heartbeat of this Generals offense. He packs such a massive punch for his size, trampling over defenders with ease. Victor now leads the USFL with five rushing touchdowns. If New Jersey’s offense continues to play like they did on Saturday (400 yards of offense!), this team is going to give opponents nightmares in week six, and beyond.
Defensively, New Jersey has stepped up to the task week in and week out. Shalom Luani made his return to the secondary, which proved to be a valuable addition. The Generals successfully shut Kyle Sloter down in the second half, leaving New Orleans with little to work with. Mike Riley is certainly looking like one of the USFL’s best coaches so far, which comes with little surprise.
New Orleans has struggled against the league’s elite teams. They have now lost to both Birmingham and New Jersey, being dominated for most of those minutes. Kyle Sloter has been extremely inconsistent, making questionable decisions that have placed the Breakers in tough positions.
Jonathan Adams and Johnnie Dixon continue to be a force in the wide receiver core, but they can’t do it all for New Orleans every week. While Sloter has been dealing with injuries, it’s been frustrating to watch his struggles against top defenses. One play, he’ll make an exceptional throw – only to follow it up with a turnover.
Defensively, the Breakers had no answers for Johnson and company. While the Breakers have shut down most offenses on the season so far, they could not figure out what to do against such a powerful ground attack. Not to mention, Johnson threw for 200 yards through the air. Larry Fedora has a lot to figure out heading into week six.
The Birmingham Stallions are a well oiled machine – at least, when J’Mar Smith is in at quarterback. After going down 17-7 against Philadelphia, Skip Holtz made the sensible decision to put Smith in the game. Once that happened, Birmingham went on a 23-0 run to close out the Stars, finishing the first half of the season with an undefeated record.
J’Mar Smith is simply a star. His playmaking abilities have continued to improve each week. As Jason Garrett said on Sunday, he is basically the team’s point guard, and it makes perfect sense. Smith knows how to direct traffic quite well, and delivers strikes on crucial plays time and time again.
CJ Marable had an incredible game running the football, which powered Birmingham’s offense in the second half. Defensively, the Stallions put on a show in the second half, completely shutting out Bart Andrus’ offense. Even without Scooby Wright, others such as DeMarquis Gates and Jo-Jo Tillery stepped up in his absence. This team is the real deal, and they prove that every single week.
Philadelphia is certainly missing Bryan Scott. Don’t get me wrong – Case Cookus has played relatively well as a backup. However, he doesn’t quite have the x-factor that Scott possesses, leaving the Stars wanting more during the big moments. Philly’s offense was nonexistent in the second half, as they could not find anything to get themselves into a rhythm.
Part of this is due to Birmingham’s elite defense – but part of it is on the fact that the Stars haven’t found someone to consistently lead them each week. Also, Andrus was running the ball very well with his offense in the first half – so it was disappointing to see him hardly use Paul Terry at all in the second half.
Defensively, the Stars had zero answers for J’Mar Smith, or CJ Marable. Philadelphia is giving up almost 200 rushing yards per game, and Birmingham took advantage of that. Channing Stribling was inactive (the USFL’s leader in interceptions) – so that wasn’t ideal for a defense that was already in trouble. Moving forward, Andrus has to make the right adjustments, because they were two completely different teams in two halves of action on Sunday.
Pittsburgh finally did it. The Maulers won in shocking fashion on Sunday, defeating Houston on a last second touchdown from Vad Lee to Bailey Gaither. Lee was the unsung hero for Pittsburgh this week. The quarterback picked up off the streets this week led the team to victory, and played an incredible game considering the circumstances.
Bailey Gaither is shaping up to be one of the league’s best receivers, making big plays all year long. His go-ahead touchdown might just be what Pittsburgh needed to turn their season around – with five games left to play, anything can happen. Lee was outstanding; being thrown into his first showing with very little preparation – yet generating offense despite lacking production from his running backs.
Defensively, the Maulers got the job done down the stretch. While Pittsburgh has had issues closing out quarters in the past, they did enough to withstand Houston’s surge in the fourth. If Kirby Wilson’s group can use this win to build some momentum, the Maulers will be in solid shape. Keep an eye on Jaylen McClain-Sapp’s return, as the star cornerback should be back in the lineup next week, further boosting this defense.
Houston: Professional Chokers
It is becoming the same story for Houston in every weekly review. Once again, the team could not maintain a large fourth quarter lead, ultimately crumbling in an embarrassing way to Pittsburgh. Clayton Thorson was inconsistent as usual, unable to find a rhythm in the second half. Despite Mark Thompson’s bounceback week, Houston could not generate offense in the fourth quarter, leading to another disappointing loss.
Kevin Sumlin has to get this group back on track, and quickly. His defense has played well, but looks exhausted towards the end of games. This has resulted in back-to-back walk off touchdowns scored on this defensive group. Thorson has not proven himself to be that guy on offense, while the Gamblers have developed a habit of choking leads in the clutch.
With five games left, Houston has a lot left to prove. On Sunday, it was simply another example of their inability to maintain a lead. Houston is in grave danger of missing the playoffs in their first season – all because the team does not show up in the fourth quarter.
Overall, week five was excellent in the USFL. It was entertaining from start to finish, as every matchup provided the viewer with plenty of excitement.
As we pass the halfway point in the USFL’s 2022 season, expect the second half to be even more enjoyable. The playoff push begins now. It’s time to see which teams will rise to the occasion – and which squads will crumble under the pressure. Things are about to get spicy – grab your popcorn, folks.
What did you think of week five in the USFL? Which game was your favorite to watch? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!