NFC South Reporter
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – When the Memphis Showboats lost its first three games this season, coach Todd Haley asked his defensive coordinator, Carnell Lake, to talk to the team about the 1989 Steelers, for whom he played as a rookie safety.
Pittsburgh opened the 1989 season with a 51-0 loss to the Browns, and followed that up with a 41-10 loss to the Bengals. But they slowly improved and not only made the playoffs with a 9-7 record, but won their wild-card game against Houston.
These Showboats are just starting to improve their rotation, but it took a big step on Sunday, handing the undefeated New Orleans Breakers their first loss of the season, 17-10, with Lake’s defense leading the way.
“We played great complementary football today – the defense created turnovers, getting the offense back when we needed it, but then the offense, ultimately, when it needed it most, got a big push and finished it off and really put the game in our place. possession.”
Memphis quarterback Cole Kelley barely saw the game-winning drive’s biggest play. Trailing 10-9 with three minutes to play, the Showboats had a third-and-5 at the Breakers’ 16-yard line, definitely in field goal range, but wanting more. A blitzer went wild up the middle, and Kelley was hit as he threw, taking the hit and landing on his back when a high pass fell into the outstretched arms of tight end Jay Jay Wilson, who reached the 3-yard line, setting up. a much easier touchdown throw from Kelley to a wide open Juwan Washington for the score.
Wilson wasn’t the intended receiver on the throw, but Kelley was happy to see it land in the right place at the right time.
“First, I’m on the ground, so I can’t even see, but I look up and the ball is just floating and I see Jay Jay running underneath, wide open. I probably wouldn’t have thrown it any more. Exactly if he was trying to throw- to him,” Kelley said.
New Orleans (4-1) led the league in total offense and tied for the lead in scoring, but Memphis held them to 10 points, including three turnovers. They had a chance to tie the game in the final two minutes, but the Showboats didn’t let them get past their 30, getting a fourth down stop to seal the victory.
“It starts with our defensive staff coming up with a great game plan for what they do,” said safety Troy Warner, who led the Showboats with 12 tackles. “We’ve just executed, and that’s been the biggest thing about this turnaround the last few weeks, just paying attention to the little things, the details and executing at a high level.”
New Orleans got 206 yards and a touchdown from quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, but only one touchdown, facing consistent pressure that led to four sacks. Running back Wes Hills, who led the league in yards and touchdowns, was kept out of the end zone and held to 38 yards on 14 carries.
“Offensively, it wasn’t a very good day,” coach John DeFilippo said after their first loss of the season. “We didn’t take advantage of the turnovers our defense got us and the field position our defense got us. It hasn’t been who we’ve been all season, and I’m really looking forward to seeing our team bounce back.”
New Orleans’ loss, combined with Houston’s win over Birmingham on Saturday, has tightened up the USFL’s South Division: Memphis, in last place at 2-3, would be tied for first in the North Division, but they are only a match behind the Stallions and Gamblers for second place and a playoff spot, halfway through the regular season.
Haley, whose father Dick was the Steelers’ director of player personnel in 1989, remembers well the Pittsburgh team and how well they turned the season around, and expects the same result with his Showboats.
“Everybody in Pittsburgh was burning their terrible towels,” said Haley, who would later become the Steelers’ offensive coordinator himself. “They found a way to turn it around and he said the most important thing was ‘We kept working and started to gain confidence through really good practices.’ When you have good practices, and the ball has turned a lot in training, and when it starts to happen, the guys gain confidence, they believe that the ball will come to them.”
Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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