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AAF Looks to Build on Strong Debut in Week Two

by Fran Stuchbury
February 13, 2019 - Alliance of American Football (AAF)

This past weekend the Alliance of American Football played its first ever games. On CBS Saturday, the San Antonio Commanders defeated the San Diego Fleet, 15-6, and the Orlando Apollos walloped the Atlanta Legends, 40-6. On Sunday the Birmingham Iron shutout the Memphis Express 26-0 on CBS Sports Network, and the Arizona Hotshots topped the Salt Lake Stallions 38-22 on the NFL Network.

One of the biggest surprises of the opening weekend was the positive reactions to the league's debut from much of the national media. Back in 2001, many of the same outlets began their unrelenting criticism of the XFL. For the AAF, many media outlets said nothing but good things about the new league.

On Twitter, Fox broadcaster Colin Cowherd Tweeted, "One or both (the XFL) of these new football leagues will work. Legalized sports gambling, legit upfront capital for both leagues and heavy network promotion will guarantee it."

The public response was stronger than expected as well. CBS scored a 1.9 rating and 3.25 million viewers for the inaugural AAF games. Head-to-head, the AAF topped ABC's competing Thunder-Rockets NBA regular season game, which had a 1.7 and 2.67 million.

The NFL Network saw around 644,000 viewers for their Arizona - Salt Lake game.

Several memorable plays engaged people on social media. San Antonio Commanders linebacker Shaan Washington delivered a monster hit to San Diego Fleet quarterback Mike Bercovici. Orlando Apollos quarterback Garret Gilbert caught a five-yard touchdown pass on a trick play similar to the Philadelphia Eagles' play on which quarterback Nick Foles caught one in last year's Super Bowl. Orlando head coach Steve Spurrier likely had that one burning a hole in his pocket for a year.

Many fans on social media were happy to have football to watch in February.

Some thoughts on week one action:

  • The league's pace of play resulted in games finishing in just over two and a half hours. The AAF utilizes a 35-second play clock, compared to the NFL's 40-second clock, and minimal television timeouts, resulting in few breaks in the action. Without extra points and kickoffs, the league moves almost immediately from a two-point conversion or field goal to an offensive play from the 25-yard-line on the other end of the field.

  • For the first time ever, the Alliance has given fans a look inside the video replay booth, allowing the public to hear officials discuss plays under review. Turns out it's a fascinating look at everything the replay officials need to examine on a close play, complete with their own narration of exactly what they're looking at.

  • It remains to be seen how much time Salt Lake Stallions quarterback Josh Woodrum will miss. He injured a hamstring on a first down run just before throwing a touchdown pass seconds before halftime that brought Salt Lake withing 19-16. He spent the entire second half in street clothes on the sideline. Backup Matt Linehan tossed a crucial interception but later moved the ball fairly well.

  • Three of the eight teams - San Diego, Atlanta and Memphis - failed to score touchdowns. It wasn't a big surprise to see defenses ahead of offenses in a league's inaugural week.

    In the lead-up to the season, Atlanta changed head coaches from Brad Childress to Kevin Coyle, and Michael Vick stepped down as offensive coordinator. Both moves may have had an impact on the Legends' offensive struggles.

    Josh Johnson, the San Diego Fleet's number one pick in the quarterback draft, signed with the Washington Redskins late in the 2018 season. Had the Fleet not lost its projected starter behind center, their offense might have been much better, too.

    The good news is Atlanta plays at San Diego in week two, so both teams have a quick chance to turn things around.

    Memphis Express quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggled in his first start, connecting on 10 of 23 passes for 87 yards with one interception. He was also sacked twice. The Express have to do a better job giving him time to throw the football in their week two home opener against the Arizona Hotshots.

  • Give Orlando Apollos defensive coordinator Bob Sanders a lot of credit for turning down a job with an NFL team because he wanted to honor the commitment he made to Steve Spurrier and the Apollos. Other assistant coaches in the AAF left for jobs. Hotshots offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze went to Liberty to be the head coach, San Diego offensive coordinator Jon Kitna was named Dallas Cowboys quarterback coach, and Birmingham Iron running backs coach Carnell Williams took the same position at Auburn.

  • No footballs will be going into the stands without the league feeling the pinch. After Iron running back Trent Richardson scored a touchdown he spiked a ball that went into the stands and was given a 15-yard penalty. AAF footballs are expensive because they have tracking devices inside them to aid the league's app.

    AAF referee consultant Mike Pereira on Twitter said, "Trent Richardson will not get a fine and won't be penalized if he does it again. It is only a foul if a player deliberately throws it and hands it into stands. If a spiked ball bounces into the stands, no foul. It should not have been called."

  • Vegas may have been right when they pegged the Arizona Hotshots as the favorite to win the AAF Championship at 5-2. Now the odds are 2-1. Along with Orlando, they were an impressive team. The Apollos were at 5-1 odds to win the Championship and are now also 2-1. After slow starts, both Atlanta and Memphis are at 40-1. One game doesn't make a season and both teams have time to things around.

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Alliance of American Football Stories from February 13, 2019

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