Another week, another L.
The Tampa Bay Vipers (0-3) have fallen yet again, losing 34-27 to the Houston Roughnecks (3-0). But hey, the attendance was good (18,117, according to the Vipers’ Twitter page, almost 4K more than the Rays’ average attendance), and the game was at least entertaining.
The score was actually an accurate representation of how the game went. It was tied at 18 at halftime, and only 26-24 going into the fourth quarter. The Vipers even took the lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with a 43-yard field goal by kicker Andrew Franks (his second of 40-plus yards, his first coming in the first quarter, and from 48 yards out). Franks was one of the many positives that can be taken from this game, as the Vipers (despite another loss) played quite well.
The offense began to click, with wide receivers Jalen Tolliver and Dan Williams emerging as elite targets (though quarterback Taylor Cornelius missed a wide open Williams on several occasions), and those pesky special teams errors that plagued the team last week in Seattle seem to be a thing of the past. An explosive kickoff return by Rannell Hall started the game, which set up the first score of the game courtesy of the aforementioned Franks and his 48-yard boot (a good kicker for a Tampa football team is something we haven’t had in quite some time), and an excellent punt by Buffalo native and former Green Bay Packers punter Jacob Schum came in the third quarter. The Roughnecks responded to the first quarter field goal with a touchdown of their own, courtesy of their star quarterback P.J. Walker connecting with Cam Phillips on an 84-yard pass (no, I don’t know how the hell he got that open down the field either), Phillips’ first of 3 on the day. The Roughnecks then converted a 3-point conversion, the first in Roughnecks history.
But, the Vipers responded with a touchdown of their own, the team's first offensive touchdown in its history, as Quinton Flowers did what he usually does when he has the ball in his hands; he made someone miss on his way to the end zone with a 7-yard run. Then, Flowers disappeared for the rest of the game, as head coach Marc Trestman went with Taylor Cornelius to finish the game. Don’t get me wrong, Cornelius played quite well, but the most egregious sequence where Flowers was left out came in the fourth quarter in the red zone (stop me if you’ve heard this one before.)
Cornelius had been doing quite well up to that point. He had both a rushing and a passing touchdown (connecting with Dan Williams on a bubble screen for a 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter), and the offense was flowing quite nicely (Cornelius ended up with 193 yards through the air). But it was winning time. It was the fourth quarter, first and goal from the Houston two-yard line, with the Vipers down by 7. Should be simple enough, right?
After a handoff gained a yard, the Vipers decided to put the ball in the hands of the former Oklahoma State quarterback, and Cornelius failed to deliver (again.) Three incompletions later and the Vipers’ defense was on the field, while Flowers was forced to sit there and watch the offense do what they have done all year; fail to get into the end zone. The defense came up with a stop, leaving a little over two minutes for Cornelius to try to tie the game up, but an interception from Roughnecks linebacker DeMarquis Gates interception sealed the Vipers’ fate.
It’s depressing, really. When each week a different color commentator comments on the Vipers’ exclusion of Flowers in the red zone, you’d think Trestman would maybe just say screw it and give in. Everything else has failed, why not try it? The fans were expressing their opinions quite clearly, as they boo’d Cornelius mercilessly, wishing for their guy to be given the opportunity to cook.
Now the question is, will Trestman finally pay the price for leaving his star chef to busboy duties, only allowing Flowers to occasionally prepare an exquisite appetizer, so the chef in charge of the main course, Cornelius, can burn the fish? Probably not.
Trestman’s offense finally looked like it at least wanted to be out there on the field. Sure, the defense was horrid, allowing P.J. Walker to pretty much do whatever he wanted, but Walker looks like the XFL version of Deshaun Watson. He’s elusive, and he has great chemistry with star receiver Cam Phillips, who has seven touchdown receptions through three games. No, that’s not a typo. So, you can’t really fully blame the Vipers’ defense. They just ran into a brick wall. Plus, the Vipers’ offense looked good. Maybe they just lost to a better team.
Or maybe Trestman lost this game today. His unwillingness to include Flowers in the game plan has been the team’s undoing, as in the red zone Cornelius has looked stiff and lost. Flowers’ ability to use his legs could be a deadly weapon, but instead he’s being left on the bench with the safety on.
We’ll see these guys again next week, as the Vipers take on the D.C. Defenders (3-0, yikes) and that team's undefeated-as-a-starter quarterback Cardale Jones, next Sunday at 7 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.