The nation’s capitol was introduced to a new brand of football on Friday night, the Washington Valor kicked off their inaugural season in the AFL. Their opponents did the same, the Baltimore Brigade. The Valor took care of business in their first contest, racing out to a big lead, relinquishing a bit of ground and then responding in their 51-38 victory over the Brigade. While the Valor did have open tryouts prior to training camp, that doesn’t mean their roster is void of talented veterans. In fact, one can say they are loaded as they have former AFL MVP Erik Meyer, reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Tracy Belton and receiver Mike Washington. The Verizon Center was buzzing with excitement throughout the night, below are my takeaways from the first game in team history.
Meyer is still looking like an MVP
After last playing in 2015 and winning the Arena Bowl for the San Jose Sabercats, quarterback Erik Meyer returned Friday with his new team and showed why he is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play in the AFL. He was nearly perfect going 21-31, throwing for 237 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions. Despite taking a year off, the 34-year old signal caller showed great pocket awareness and was able to extend plays with his feet.
Belton is a key player on defense
Last year’s DPOY tallied 80 tackles, 20 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, and 9 interceptions. Of those interceptions, three of them were returned for touchdowns. The D.C. native’s performance last season has carried over to this season. He led all defenders with 9 total tackles while intercepting both Brigade quarterbacks. Those were his 47 and 48th career interceptions, he was rightly named the defensive player of the game.
Mike Washington is a Playmaker
Mike Washington made big plays all night on his way to 9 receptions for 112 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He faced a lot of man coverage and was able to beat defenders with his route running ability. Washington proved that he can affect a game in multiple ways, despite his diminutive stature, the 5’8 wideout is a big time problem for opposing defenses.
The offense got out to a quick start, scoring on five of their first six possessions. Their defense was able to disrupt Baltimore’s offense forcing 1 sack, 4 forced fumbles (recovering one), and forcing 2 interceptions in the first half. That combination gave the Valor a commanding 34-6 lead over the Brigade at halftime. The defense held Baltimore to just 73 yards total offense, while the offense totaled 189 yards in the first half.
Defense struggles second half
When the second half kicked off, the Brigade got going and would score on 5 of their final 6 possessions. They even cut the lead to 11 with just 7 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. While that unit struggled for much of the third quarter, they found themselves in time to make a few big plays down the stretch. Including making a goal line stand late in the game, forcing the Brigade into a turnover on downs.