Two players who had brief tenures with the Buffalo Bills led a thrilling and unlikely comeback in the XFL’s debut weekend.
The league is back for a rebooted season after its first attempt at a comeback fizzled during the COVID-19 pandemic, kicking off with four games this weekend. Sunday’s first game featured two former members of the Bills, with quarterback A.J. McCarron and wide receiver Austin Proehl playing for the St. Louis Battlehawks as they faced the San Antonio Brahmas.
McCarron and Proehl ended up connecting to lead a never-before-seen comeback.
Former Bills Shine, Take Advantage of XFL Rules
McCarron and Proehl both had brief tenures in Buffalo, both joining the team in the 2018 season but never making an active roster. McCarron competed with rookie Josh Allen and second-year Nathan Peterman for the starting quarterback job, and the Bills traded McCarron to the then-Oakland Raiders after Peterman won the job.
Proehl was a seventh-round receiver who showed flashes of potential in training camp and the preseason, but never made it past the practice squad in his three separate stints with the team.
It looked as if McCarron and Proehl would be starting their XFL careers with a loss, as the Battlehawks trailed 15-3 with less than two minutes left. But McCarron found receiver Hakeem Butler for an 18-yard touchdown, then completed a 3-point conversion to bring his team within a field goal.
McCarron and the Battlehawks then took advantage of another tweak in the XFL’s rules, which allows a team to attempt to convert a 4th-and-15 to keep the ball instead of going for an onside kick. McCarron found Proehl for a 22-yard gain, then drove to the red zone and connected with Proehl again on the go-ahead touchdown.
After the game, McCarron was full of praise for his team.
“Unbelievable – just unbelievable grit by the guys,” McCarron said, via Al.com. “We never got uneasy. Things weren’t going great for us, but we felt fine. We just had to get some momentum. And that’s part of it. Not having film on them and kind of learning on the fly, you don’t know what to expect. But unbelievable job by the big fellows up front and playmakers all over. Our defense played outstanding. An all-around team win.”
McCarron Grows Emotional After Win
The game marked another kind of a comeback for McCarron, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the 2021 preseason. Speaking to Al.com before the start of the XFL season, the 32-year-old former Alabama quarterback said he always knew he wanted to return to football.
“I haven’t had that thought of hanging them up,” McCarron said. “Guys are playing for so many years now, and my body feels great. In ‘21 was a freak deal – non-contact ACL. I started football at the age of 3, and that was the first injury that knocked me out a whole season. I really never had that thought.”
McCarron added that he gave some thought to trying to sign with another NFL team and competing for a backup role, but decided to play in the XFL because he wants to win.