XFL Week 5 Recap: Seattle Beats Houston, DC Claims Pole Position

A.J. McCarron of the Battlehawks signals an audible. McCarron would struggle against the DC Defenders on Saturday. (Gerald Leong/XFL)

Written and Edited by Zach Kangieser 

March 13, 2023, 10:21 AM

We’ve officially hit the halfway point of the 2023 XFL Season, and hopefully this time a global pandemic won’t suddenly swing around to abruptly cancel the season. Twenty games in, though, and we seem to have a pretty clear picture of what teams are contenders and what teams are pretenders. Funny enough, this week, contenders played contenders while pretenders played pretenders.

The DC Defenders are now cruising as the best team in the league thanks to their victory over the St. Louis Battlehawks on Saturday, though the Battlehawks themselves have kept it close in their losses and looked competitive. The Seattle Sea Dragons asserted themselves as contenders this week thanks to an upset over the Houston Roughnecks, the fourth contending team, who were looking for a signature win and failed to find it.

On the other side of the coin, the struggling Vegas Vipers finally picked up their first victory, one that came at the expense of the still winless Orlando Guardians. On Sunday night, the Arlington Renegades went back to holding a winning record; their offense didn’t do much, but it did manage to score more points than the San Antonio Brahmas did.

For more details about every game this week, including statlines, some big plays and finishes, we’ve compiled a recap of every game this week, starting with Thursday night.

Seattle Sea Dragons 21, Houston Roughnecks 14 

Sea Dragons WR Josh Gordon struggled against the Roughnecks, catching only two passes for fifteen yards, but the team did more than enough to win. Credit for the photo to Scott Taetsch of Getty Images. 

Don’t let the final score fool you; the Sea Dragons never trailed at any point, and the Roughnecks were trailing 15-0 until there were just over seven minutes left in the game, when Max Borghi finally put them on the board with a one yard TD run. Both teams then put up another score apiece, with Houston converting on a two point conversion and then converting a 4th and 15 to get one last chance to steal a win. But a Brandon Silvers pass was tipped and intercepted (by a lineman, no less) with just seconds left, and Seattle kneeled to hand Houston their first loss in franchise history.

Let’s talk about Silvers. The Roughnecks offense ran almost entirely through him, as he threw forty-seven passes compared to a combined thirteen rushing attempts from the entire team. That type of spread makes an offense one dimensional, especially when the Roughnecks’ best receiver, Jontre Kirklin, left the game early with an injury. The Sea Dragons more than capitalized. Silvers managed a measly 227 yards on those forty-seven passes (only twenty-five were completed), with one late touchdown pass and the game-sealing interception. 

Seattle’s Ben DiNucci wasn’t much better, either, going 17-for-32 with 209 yards, one touchdown, and a brutal three interceptions, two of which were within Houston’s thirty yard line. He did also have a twenty yard TD rush, which was the first score of the game and put Seattle up 6-0. But with numerous chances to put the dagger in the Roughnecks’ undefeated record, DiNucci couldn’t manage it, committing crucial errors that gave Houston extra chances that they debatably didn’t deserve. He also seemed to have a severe disconnect with Sea Dragons WR Josh Gordon; while the tandem clicked in the games prior, they struggled to work well tonight, and cameras picked up DiNucci yelling after a miscommunication between them resulted in his third pick of the night.

Still, this was a well earned win for Seattle, especially for their defense, and the team will look to ride a three game winning streak into next week, where they’ll go on the road to face the lowly Orlando Guardians. Houston, on the other hand, will have to make adjustments and better implement a run game as they face an even tougher test, going into DC to face the Defenders.

DC Defenders 28, St. Louis Battlehawks 20 

DC Defender Abram Smith takes a handoff. (Getty Images) 

The Dome in St. Louis was positively rocking for the Battlehawks. Over 35,000 fans showed up to watch their number one football team, who had home field advantage in the latest incarnation of a budding rivalry with the DC Defenders. But home field advantage wasn’t enough for St. Louis to knock off the Defenders, who moved to 5-0 and took the XFL crown off the back of a monster performance from running back Abram Smith.

Smith had an unbelievable day, rushing for 218 yards and three scores, two of which were longer than sixty yards. He looked unstoppable against a solid Battlehawks defense and took the pressure off of Jordan Ta’amu, who only threw eighteen passes for a mere ninety yards, fifty-four of which went to one receiver, Lucky Jackson. Defensively, the aptly named Defenders controlled the tempo for much of the game; Battlehawks QB A.J. McCarron got sacked four times, and he lost a fumble to DC, which resulted in a score.

McCarron himself had a respectable day on paper, passing for 234 yards, but the Battlehawks’ offense couldn’t get it going consistently, even going three and out after an eighty-yard return set them up with prime field position in DC’s redzone. They continued to struggle (outside of Hakeem Butler, who had nearly 100 receiving yards on 8 catches) until McCarron hit Steven Mitchell for a fifty yard bomb to bring the Battlehawks within eight points. They would get one more chance to tie or win the game, but a McCarron pass intended for Mitchell was picked off by Defenders DB Michael Joseph (who leads the XFL in picks) to ensure another win for DC and a regular season sweep against the Battlehawks.

DC sits pretty with the lone unbeaten record in the XFL, and will host the Roughnecks next week in a battle between division leaders. Meanwhile, the Battlehawks will leave The Dome in St. Louis, and will go on the road to face the Vegas Vipers.

Vegas Vipers 35, Orlando Guardians 32 

RB Deandre Torrey of the Vipers (center, with ball) secures a first down on the ground. (Louis Grasse and Getty Images) 

The XFL 3.0 witnessed its first ever “Tank Bowl” late on Saturday night, as two 0-4 teams collided in Vegas with the intent to pick up their first win. Vegas went in with home field advantage and the odds on their side, having played competitively in most of their games. But there was a reason both teams entered 0-4, as despite very competitive play, both teams also suffered from questionable plays and coaching decisions. Still, the game requires a winner and a loser, and the Vipers offense did just enough to secure their first victory as a franchise.

In his second straight start for Vegas, Luis Perez took advantage of Orlando’s lackluster defense, passing for 269 yards and three touchdowns on just twenty-eight passes. But Orlando had a QB of their own duking it out with Perez, and it wasn’t Paxton Lynch. Lynch was benched early in the game in favor of Quinten Dormady, who was returning from a suspension after being falsely accused of leaking plays. Dormady had a strong showing of his own, throwing for 256 yards and two scores in just over three quarters of action. Perez and Dormady wreaked havoc on the opposing defenses, resulting in a shootout between two teams desperate to get in the win column.

Unfortunately, while the majority of the game was highly entertaining, we were unable to witness an exciting finish. With just over a minute left, Vegas kicked a field goal to seemingly go up 38-32, but a five-yard penalty made it 4th and 1 within Orlando’s 10-yard line, and coach Rod Woodson elected to go for it and failed to convert. On the very next play, Dormady was sacked, putting him at the one yard line with under twenty seconds to play. A false start was punished by a ten second runoff, and suddenly Vegas had six seconds to go ninety-yards. Hopefully a dramatic finish, right? Wrong. Another false start, another ten second runoff, and Vegas picks up their first win off of a penalty.

Vegas will follow up a rare victory by hosting the Battlehawks next week as major underdogs. But the winless Guardians will face even longer odds, hosting the rolling Seattle Sea Dragons.

Arlington Renegades 12, San Antonio Brahmas 10 

Renegades DB Will Hill tackles Brahmas WR Fred Brown (6). (John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.) 

Two Texas teams faced off in San Antonio to determine who would take second in a weak XFL South. The Brahmas entered this contest just 1-3 to Arlington’s 2-2, but with a win they would hold the head-to-head advantage to put them second behind Houston in the division. Still, the Texas showdown didn’t produce much in terms of excitement, and between the two teams, Arlington’s offense just barely did enough to pick up the win in a low-scoring affair.

We knew both of these teams were lacking offensively, but no one expected it to be this lacking. Kyle Sloter of Arlington had the most passing yards on the day with just 146. San Antonio originally chose to start Reid Sinnett at QB, and he played decently, even throwing a TD pass to T.J. Vasher in the first quarter. But he went down in the second, and the struggling Jack Coan was forced back into the fray, to almost no success. Despite playing most of the game, Coan had fewer passing yards than Sinnett, and Coan threw two picks, including the game-sealing one.

Most of the noteworthy statlines from this game were defensive. Jordan Williams recorded an impressive eleven tackles for the Brahmas, while Tenny Adewusi had five tackles and a pick. For Arlington, Willie Taylor had five tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery, while Shakur Brown recorded four tackles and a pick. Additionally, no points were scored in the fourth quarter. De’Veon Smith punched in a one-yard run late in the third, after a great, 98-yard drive from Arlington, and that was it for scoring.

These two teams will be running it back next week, but this time Arlington will be hosting.

At The Midway Point 

Well, at the bare minimum, it’s clear that the XFL North is the superior of the two divisions. They have won twelve of the twenty games so far, and three of the four serious contenders for the XFL Championship in the Defenders (5-0), Battlehawks (3-2) and Sea Dragons (3-2) all reside in the North. Additionally, the South hasn’t won a game against the North since Arlington defeated Vegas in Week 1.

As for league talent, the most notable QB performance this week, in my opinion, came from Quinten Dormady. Sure, he played against one of the weaker defenses in the league, but the Guardians’ offense, which has been pretty bad all year, was able to come to life at his hands more than it ever did in the hands of Paxton Lynch. Dormady should remain Orlando’s QB1 for the remainder of the year.

Abram Smith of DC truly made a case for being the most explosive offensive player in the league as he gashed St. Louis’ run defense. Hakeem Butler of St. Louis continued to play well at WR, utilizing his size to bully his way to nearly 100 yards. And Cody Latimer of Orlando asserted himself into the conversation with a star-making performance, catching eight passes for 124 yards, including a forty-five yard snag that brought Orlando within three points.

Defensively, this was a great week for secondaries. The secondaries in DC, Houston, and Seattle all gave the arguable top three QBs in the XFL hard times. Brandon Silvers, Ben DiNucci and AJ McCarron all failed to crack 240 yards, and all threw at least one pick (DiNucci had three). Ajene Harris of Houston had two INTs, and Michael Joseph of DC took an INT for himself; they’re leading the league in picks with five and four respectively. In the trenches, lineman Pita Taumoepenu of Vegas had a monstrous three sacks and a fumble recovery against Orlando, immediately putting him on the map.

We still have five weeks of football to play, but even though it seems we have four real contenders and four playoff spots, there’s still plenty of drama. After all, it’s not the top four teams that make the playoffs, but the top two in each division. That means one of DC, Seattle and St. Louis will have to miss the playoffs, while the questionable Arlington Renegades may sneak in as the XFL South’s second team.

Twenty regular season games remain, and hopefully they will continue to deliver the chaos and (mostly) quality football that the XFL has been providing so far. We’ll just have to wait and see how those games play out.