Heading into this affair, both teams were trending in different directions. The Houston Gamblers were blown out by Birmingham a week ago, as self-inflicted wounds ultimately resulted in a disastrous second half.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Breakers have won two straight, in a position to win this game and clinch a playoff spot.
When these two teams played in week two, it was an entertaining shootout. The New Orleans Breakers came away with a 38-31 victory, as Houston came up just short. That being said, they were without Mark Thompson during that game.
Let’s take a look at what happened in today’s matchup, as it was quite entertaining from start to finish.
New Orleans received the opening kickoff, and were set up with excellent field position due to Eli Stove’s return past the 50. However, the Breakers wouldn’t go anywhere. Houston’s defense held up strong, as Isaiah Chambers forced a stop on third down.
The Gamblers first possession wouldn’t go too smoothly. A penalty called back some early success, resulting in the team having to punt it away.
New Orleans would see a bit of controversy on their next drive. Wes Hills appeared to fumble the ball, but Mike Pereira ended up ruling that his knee was down with possession. However, three straight incompletions in the direction of Johnnie Dixon resulted in another punt.
Throughout the period, defense was king. Neither team could find a way to get in a rhythm offensively, as they continued to send it back and forth to one another. Montell Cozart made an appearance for Houston, but it didn’t mean much as we went into the next quarter with a scoreless ball game.
New Orleans finally figured things out on their next drive. Wes Hills had a couple of solid plays, which put them in Houston territory. Then, on 4th and 1, New Orleans converted. This set up a dime from McLeod Bethel-Thompson to a wide open Johnnie Dixon, which put the Breakers in front 7-0.
It's been a defensive slugfest so far, but the @USFLBreakers finally get on the board, striking first as McLeod Bethel-Thompson finds a wide open Johnnie Dixon.
The Houston Gamblers offense would finally come alive, with Kenji Bahar and Mark Thompson leading the way. They found themselves set up nicely inside the Breakers red zone, but a strange coaching move would cost them. Montell Cozart went back into the game, and instantly threw an interception to Vontae Diggs, ending the drive short.
Houston’s defense would hold up, with the Breakers backed up deep in their own territory. New Orleans had to punt, and the Gamblers took over. Bahar looked solid, dropping a dime to Justin Hall who made a spectacular catch down the sidelines.
After getting back inside the red zone, the New Orleans Breakers defense made a stop. Houston attempted a field goal – that went about as horrible as it could have gone. The snap came early, meaning that Hunter Niswander had to chuck the ball to the end zone – not even having a chance to set the snap for the kick.
Heading into halftime, the Breakers held a 7-0 lead.
Houston got into a groove to begin the second half, but the momentum quickly died. Keonte Schad sacked Kenji Bahar on third down, for his seventh of the season – and the Gamblers had to punt again.
New Orleans put together an excellent march, getting right down the field. Wes Hills nearly fumbled again, but was ruled down by contact. Then, Bethel-Thompson threw a dart to Dee Anderson, which put the Breakers up 14-0.
As the quarter came to a close, the Houston Gamblers finally made something happen. Kenji Bahar made some spectacular decisions, putting the team in a position to score. Then, Mark Thompson blasted his way into the end zone, putting Houston on the board.
With fifteen minutes left to play, the New Orleans Breakers led 14-7.
The New Orleans Breakers quickly got to work. In the second half, their offense looked much more fluid, reminiscent of the team we saw last week against Memphis. After getting inside the ten, though, Isaiah Chambers sacked Bethel-Thompson, holding the Breakers to a field goal. Matt Coghlin knocked it through, and their lead extended to 17-7.
Houston would not go away, though. Mark Thompson continued to pound away, which is something we’ve become accustomed to down the stretch in the USFL. Nick Vogel hit a 49 yard kick, and it was 17-10 with several minutes to go.
New Orleans would not be able to capitalize on solid field position. On third down, Bethel-Thompson just missed an open receiver, as Jeremiah Johnson perfectly timed a tip to knock the ball away. With a few minutes left, Houston would have one more chance.
Jeremiah Johnson has been such an elite corner this season for the @USFLGamblers.
The Gamblers would then be placed in a weird situation. After marching close to midfield, Vontae Diggs sacked Bahar, putting the team in a bind. On fourth down, they decided to punt with less than two minutes to go.
They forced a quick punt, giving themselves one last crack at it. On their first play, a 26 yard gain gave them a chance to get to the end zone as time expired. However, Jordan Brailford got to Bahar on the final play, effectively ending the game.
The New Orleans Breakers came away with a 17-10 win, clinching the USFL playoffs by taking down the Houston Gamblers on the road.
QBMcLeod Bethel-Thompson: The veteran was on point today. After a rocky start, MBT led the team to victory, with an excellent performance. He finished the game with 227 yards on 23/31 passing, throwing 2 TD’s.
WRJohnnie Dixon: Dixon has come into his own down the stretch of the USFL season, and got the scoring started in the late second quarter. His touchdowns have been clutch over the past few weeks, and finished today with 60 yards and a score.
LBJerod Fernandez: It was an outstanding performance from Fernandez, the former All-USFL linebacker. He posted 10 tackles and 1 TFL today, leading the team.
SVontae Diggs: Vontae Diggs was everywhere today, doing a bit of everything for the Breakers defense: 9 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 INT, and 1 PD. Diggs has been a leader for the last two seasons, and did that once again today.
LBJT Tyler: Despite the loss, Tyler has exceeded expectations in Houston. J.T. did just about everything he could in this game, leading the Gamblers with 10 tackles and a TFL. Bright things are in his future, no doubt.
RBMark Thompson: The OPOY candidate was excellent today, with 84 yards and a touchdown, averaging 4.4YPC. While Houston couldn’t make the postseason, Thompson posted 14 rushing touchdowns in 2023, playing only eight games. The NFL should be making a call for sure.
LBIsaiah Chambers: Someone who was a consistent force all year for Houston was Isaiah Chambers, who left it all on the field every single game. He posted 4 tackles and 1.5 sacks today, making a couple big impact plays in the red zone.
For the second straight USFL season, the New Orleans Breakers have clinched a playoff berth. They will, once again, face off against the Birmingham Stallions, in what should be an entertaining matchup next week.
John DeFilippo and the New Orleans Breakers have to be quite proud of what they accomplished this season. DeFilippo, in his first year, brought in a brand new system. He recruited McLeod Bethel-Thompson, and the duo combined for seven big-time wins in 2023. Now, they get to compete for a USFL title over the next two weeks.
What a season for John DeFilippo. In his USFL HC debut, he recruited McLeod Bethel-Thompson to the team, where they won seven games together despite much adversity. Now, it's time to chase a title. pic.twitter.com/cqY560zmSR
It’s a tough ending to the season for Curtis Johnson and the Houston Gamblers. Johnson does deserve credit for what he did this year, as Houston was much more competitive than compared to a season ago. However, there is still plenty of work to do, as they can’t get over the hump of reaching the postseason.
Ultimately, it came down to their inability to execute in the red zone during the first half. Those two failed opportunities left points off the board, which ended up being the difference in this outing.
Week ten of the USFL wraps up tonight, as the Michigan Panthers battle it out with the Philadelphia Stars for the final playoff spot. The game kicks off at 7pm ET on FOX.
What are your thoughts on this USFL matchup between the Houston Gamblers and New Orleans Breakers? Which USFL players impressed? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!