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Bandits keep playoff hope alive with win over Players

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By Eric D. Williams
FOX sportswriter

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Let truth-teller Todd Haley provide the unvarnished version of how his team played.

“Fortunately, there are no style points for winning a football game,” Haley said. “Because it wasn’t pretty in a lot of different areas.”

Yes, Haley is right. And while Canton may not be asking for the movie of the game for this one, Tampa Bay’s grimy 13-3 win over the Houston Gamblers on Sunday night at Legion Field leaves open the possibility of his team playing there in playoffs.

At 4-4 after Sunday’s victory, the Bandits will reach the playoffs if they win their next two games.

The New Orleans Breakers (5-3) can clinch the playoff spot and a trip to Canton for themselves with a win over Tampa Bay next week.

The Breakers outscored the Bandits 34-3 in Week 2, but Haley expects a more competitive game this time around.

“I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to play a meaningful game against a team that really kicked our pants the first time around,” Haley said. “But it’s a meaningful game, and we have a lot more to study and prepare for.”

Bandit Defense Stages Against Players

Bandit Defense Stages Against Players

The Tampa Bay Bandits recorded three sacks and an interception to help them hold the Houston Gamblers to just three points in the win.

Tampa Bay quarterback Jordan Ta’amu wasn’t at his best on Sunday, but he did a pretty good job handling the game.

Ta’amu threw for just 98 yards on 12 passes for 21, with one touchdown and one interception.

Haley took responsibility for Ta’amu’s interception in the fourth quarter, saying he should have headed the ball to keep the chains moving – although Ta’amu’s offer bounced off the hands of the receiver Rashard Davis.

“He did enough for us to win, and that’s key,” Haley said. “He’s a competitive guy who likes it, led his team today and got us the win.”

Jordan Ta’amu connects with Derrick Dillon for TD

Jordan Ta'amu connects with Derrick Dillon for TD

Jordan Ta’amu hit Derrick Dillon for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Tampa Bay Bandits a 10-0 lead over the Houston Gamblers

The Gamblers were without quarterback Clayton Thorson, who ended the year with an injury, as well as starting running back Mark Thompson and No. 1 receiver Isaiah Zuber. So that would explain the Gamblers not reaching the end zone and finishing with 214 total rushing yards.

The Bandits didn’t do much better, with just 244 total yards.

Houston’s offense never even reached the red zone, and the Gamblers’ only score came on a 44-yard field goal from Nick Vogel after the first drive of the second half.

Making his first start, quarterback Kenji Bahar was mostly ineffective, completing 19 of 34 passes for 159 yards, with no touchdown passes and one interception. Bahar has been sacked four times.

Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin said he no longer ran Bahar due to the quarterback’s lack of depth, not wanting to risk putting the athletic signalman in danger.

Tampa Bay edge rusher Mike Scott, who finished with two sacks, said he had one goal in mind against someone as green as Bahar for the first time — make it feel.

“We wanted to hit him as hard as possible,” Scott said. “Don’t put anything but pressure on him and make sure he feels us at all times.”

Vogel executes a perfect kick

Yes, kickers are also football players.

Vogel showed it by recovering his own kick after Houston’s first score of the game early in the third quarter.

Unfortunately, the Bandits failed to get a first down and had to return to Tampa Bay.

Sumlin said special teams coach Greg McMahan saw a chance the onside kick would work when reviewing the film earlier this week.

“We talked about it on Monday or Tuesday of this week that if the opportunity arose, we were going to execute it and do it,” Sumlin said. “And we executed him.”

Haley oddly opted to contest the kick in play even though it went 15 yards – five yards more than needed for the kick-off team to legally recover the ball.

“It was perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of my coaching career,” Haley said. “I heard a lot of people talking into the helmet, and when I looked up I didn’t take into account that he had gone 15 yards instead of 10 yards. But the defense told me bailed out.”

Gamblers’ Chris Odom racks up three sacks against Bandits

Gamblers' Chris Odom racks up three sacks against Bandits

Chris Odom recorded three sacks in the Houston Gamblers’ 13-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Bandits.

Chris OdomeUSFL leader

Chris Odom is a problem.

Tampa Bay tried several ways to account for Houston’s talented edge rusher, but nothing really worked. Odom finished with three sacks and now has a USFL-leading 11 this season.

Odom also totaled five combined tackles, including a tackle for loss and a forced fumble.

Sumlin said it should come as no surprise that Odom is an effective passing thrower; he attended the same high school as Cleveland Browns sack specialist Myles Garrett – Martin High School in Arlington, Texas.

At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, Odom has a powerful combination of a great start, good body lean and a lanky body type that gives offensive adjustments to linemen, according to Sumlin.

“He and Donald Payne are elite players in this league,” Sumlin said. “Both of these guys are showing this week in and week out. And Chris has been the same player from a defensive standpoint with his ability to make plays and disrupt plays. Chris Odom is as good as it gets in this league.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for over a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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