The XFL has continued to excite through three weeks of play.
The Seattle Sea Dragons opened up the weekend on Saturday against the Vegas Vipers. The Sea Dragons took home the win, 30-26, thanks to a two-touchdown performance from former NFL receiver Josh Gordon. Then, the second game of the slate saw that mark topped when the D.C. Defenders fended off the St. Louis BattleHawks, 34-28, to stay undefeated in the highest-scoring XFL 3.0 game to date.
Earlier this week, Houston Roughnecks head coach Wade Phillips said that he thinks he hasn't coached in the NFL since 2019 because of his age. But the 75-year-old has his team at 3-0 after a 22-13 win over the San Antonio Brahmas in the weekend finale.
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Here are the winners and losers from Week 3 of the 2023 XFL season:
Houston Roughnecks keep on winning
The XFL boasts two undefeated teams after three weeks of play — the D.C. Defenders and Houston Roughnecks — but head coach Wade Phillips' Roughnecks arguably have been the most impressive team. With a 22-13 victory over the visiting San Antonio Brahmas on Sunday night, the Roughnecks have defeated their Texas-based XFL rivals in back-to-back games after last week's win over the Arlington Renegades. Astute XFL observers will remember that in XFL version 2.0 during 2020, the Houston Roughnecks opened the season 5-0 before the league shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Next week, the Roughnecks hit the road to play the winless Orlando Guardians before playing the Seattle Sea Dragons (1-2) in Week 5. Could the XFL version 3.0 Houston Roughnecks match the 5-0 start of their 2020 counterparts?
As the XFL continues to provide shots for players to put out film for potential NFL opportunities, special teamers should not be overlooked. D.C. Defenders (3-0) punter Daniel Whelan is perfect proof of that. The Irish-born Whelan, 24, has emerged as the top punter in the entire league. In a victory Sunday against the BattleHawks, Whelan had four monster boots — including a 61-yard blast and a near perfect punt in the fourth quarter that just inched over the goal line for a touchback — and averaged 53.5 yards per punt. That gave him a season average of 46.2 yards per punt through his 15 kicks. Fans, too, have noticed.
A beautiful toe-tapping touchdown on a pass from (former Dallas Cowboys) quarterback Ben DiNucci served as a great reminder of Gordon's prodigious talent.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 5, 2023
He put an exclamation point on his performance with the game-winning touchdown, an improbable fourth-down catch in which he then backpedaled and weaved his way into the end zone.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 5, 2023
The now-31-year-old led the NFL in yards in 2013 (1,646) while hauling in nine touchdowns and earning All-Pro honors for the Cleveland Browns. His career was then completely derailed by repeated violations of the NFL's substance abuse policy, but after a stop with the Fan Controlled Football league in 2021 he did find his way back to the NFL, appearing in 12 games with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021 and two last year with the Tennessee Titans. Could he use the XFL as a launchpad back to the NFL in 2023? Plays like these will certainly help.
QB change pays off for Bob Stoops, Kyle Sloter
Arlington Renegades head coach Bob Stoops made a quarterback change in Week 3, starting Kyle Sloter over Drew Plitt. The move got the team back in the win column against the Orlando Guardians. Sloter — who has spent time with seven different NFL teams and played for the USFL's New Orleans Breakers in 2022 — completed 18 of 23 passes for 124 yards on Sunday. The biggest throw came in the fourth quarter with his team down 9-3. Sloter connected with receiver Tyler Vaughns for a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game. A two-point conversion run by De'Veon Smith put the Renegades up for good at 10-9. As the Renegades improved to 2-1, it was a brutal loss for the Guardians, who fell to 0-3 to match the Vegas Vipers as the XFL's only winless teams.
— Arlington Renegades (@XFLRenegades) March 5, 2023
Ugly end in D.C.
It was a hard-fought game between two teams that came in undefeated, but as the Defenders looked to milk the clock, tempers flared to end the game in an unsavory way.
A scuffle broke out towards the end of the Defenders vs. Battlehawks game 😳 pic.twitter.com/1dydLX18mE
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 5, 2023
Three players were ejected D.C. linebacker Francis Bernard and offensive lineman Rod Taylor and St. Louis running back Brian Hill. These two teams, by the way, meet up again in two weeks, on March 18 in St. Louis.
Unsustainable fourth-quarter magic runs out for STL
After coming from behind to win their first two games of the season, the BattleHawks (2-1) again fell behind early. This time, however, it didn't pan out. So what was a huge matchup in the XFL North, with both St. Louis and D.C. entering as the lone undefeated teams in the division, the BattleHawks' loss proved to be costly.
The BattleHawks started the game in a 14-point hole after Defenders (3-0) defensive back Michael Joseph returned an AJ McCarron interception 41 yards for a score. St. Louis did battle back to tie the game into halftime, but then quickly fell behind as its offense sputtered after intermission. But then the BattleHawks were gifted a golden opportunity in the final minute, down 14 points, when Defenders quarterback Jordan Ta'amu fumbled the ball. St. Louis recovered at the 2-yard line and then scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion. On their fourth-and-15 "onside" attempt, McCarron was sacked, all but ending the game.
Josh Gordon touchdown celebration
Gordon and teammate Jahcour Pearson teamed up to do the "CPR" celebration after his first touchdown. In the wake of Damar Hamlin's on-field collapse in January that required resuscitation on the field, it's probably best for the sports world to just retire this celly entirely.
Live mics giveth and taketh
One small downside of the access the XFL grants TV viewers is the chance fans will hear the gruff language used in football. Several F-bombs leaked through the ESPN+ broadcast of Saturday night's game, either picked up from celebrating players in the end zone or through the mic'd-up coaches and players who absentmindedly spoke how they normally would. Yeah, yeah "think of the children" – whatever. The actual biggest problem was all the coarse language we didn't hear. The broadcast frequently dumped the audio to avoid other "bad" words, creating an interrupted viewing experience that ensured you'd miss chunks of otherwise intriguing conversation or would have a touchdown celebration with prolonged periods of silence.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: XFL Week 3 winners, losers: Josh Gordon excels for Seattle Sea Dragons