The Montreal Alouettes fought hard and gave everything they had, but their hopes of winning the eighth Grey Cup in franchise history were laid to rest in the Steel City this past Sunday.
Losing 40-24 to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Alouettes nearly wrote a storybook ending to what was a tumultuous 2014 season. But the Birds of Prey had their wings clipped and will now have to wait until next June to compete again.
So why did this Alouettes team fall short in the 2014 Eastern Final? In the simplest of terms, special teams. An area that has befallen this Alouettes franchise for YEARS now. An area that seemingly gets zero attention until a speedy kick returner torches this Montreal team.
The latest dagger to the Alouettes’ Achilles heel was the Tiger-Cats’ Brandon Banks, who burned this team for not one but TWO returned touchdowns! Were it not for a holding penalty early in the first quarter, Banks would have notched the proverbial hat trick against Montreal’s hapless special teams squad. One decision to punt to this lightning-quick returner was questionable, but MULTIPLE times?!
Any special teams coach who would make such a grievous error in judgment would surely be shown the door, never to be heard from again. But for the Alouettes, their special teams coach also holds another title that would make his dismissal a bit more problematic; that of head coach.
If Sunday’s loss was not proof enough that Tom Higgins needs to delegate this particular duty to another person, then I’m at a loss for words to determine what more is needed. Higgins is a good football man and he has won the respect of the entire Alouettes locker room for helping turn the season around. But as a special teams coach, he has simply got to go.
For crying out loud, the OTTAWA FREAKING REDBLACKS have their own special teams coach! And a very good one at that! If an expansion team with a 2-16 record can see the value in this area of the football game, surely a man whose name is in the discussion for 2014′s Coach of the Year award can also see the benefit of having someone else handle this assignment.
Had the Alouettes been able to contain Banks at ANY point during the Eastern Final, our bags would all be packed for one more football game this coming Sunday in Vancouver. It’s really as simple as that; Take away the 14 points that Banks hung on the Als and it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.
Despite the loss, Jonathan Crompton is now 9-3 as a starter for Montreal and has pretty well guaranteed that he will be the Alouettes’ quarterback for the foreseeable future. He was both brilliant and confounding last Sunday, finding S.J. Green for three touchdowns while also throwing three interceptions. Once again, QB Coach Jeff Garcia deserves a ton of credit for Crompton’s overall success in a very difficult spot to be put in.
The play-calling by offensive co-coordinator Ryan Dinwiddie on this day was questionable, to say the least. After Crompton demonstrated over and over again his proficiency in using the read option, the move to make this young QB stay in the pocket and throw more was baffling. That along with some poor decisions to throw into double coverage led to three picks which put this Alouettes team in a very tough spot.
Hamilton does have a deadly run defense and not having Tyrell Sutton in Montreal’s line-up after all was tough. But after playing so well in the Eastern Semi-Final, the decision not to lean on Brandon Rutley and Chris Rainey more was a curious one. Save for one or two breakout runs, the ground game for the Alouettes was non-existent at the worst possible time.
Discipline was also a factor, as Duron Carter took some selfish penalties that ended up costing Montreal some prime real estate. Love him or hate him (as fans in the Hammer seemingly do), Carter is a tremendous talent and being able to shut him down gave the Tabbies a boost. If this was Duron’s last game as a CFL player before he takes his talents to the NFL, this past Sunday probably won’t make the highlight reel.
As usual, the Alouettes’ defense did its job, but they couldn’t be expected to win this game all by themselves. They forced turnovers and did put pressure on Zach Collaros, but Hamilton’s QB withstood it all. He and the Tiger-Cats eventually outlasted this defensive corps to remain undefeated at Tim Hortons Field and also punch their second Grey Cup ticket in as many years, where they will face the league’s most dominant team in the Calgary Stampeders.
The 2014 season is now in the record books. I’ll expand more on the year that was when I do my year-in-review column but I will say that as a fan, this was not a season that I will soon forget.
I am disappointed that the Alouettes will once again not play in the Grey Cup game, but I am extremely proud of this team for never giving up in 2014. Starting the year with a 1-7 record was a tremendous hill to climb. To go from that dubious mark to finishing the season at 9-9 while hosting a playoff game was quite the accomplishment. I hope these Alouettes players can realize and appreciate that.
As the winter months pass, a lot of tough questions will have to be answered. Some important names will be eligible for free agency and Jim Popp will have to really work his magic to continue fielding a competitive football team. But I have faith in him, as should all of you Alouettes fans. Again, I remind any of you who doubt our GM’s abilities that this Montreal Alouettes franchise has qualified for the playoffs every single year since their rebirth in 1996.
Every other CFL team since then has missed the playoffs at least once, but not Montreal. That doesn’t just happen by accident! There’s been some questionable decisions over the years, but you really can’t argue with the results. This team is built to compete year in and year out and that won’t change anytime soon.
I’ll take a bit of time to digest this entire 2014 Montreal Alouettes season, then recap it all for you good readers in short order. Best of luck to the two teams competing this Sunday in Vancouver and to their fans I say that I hope your team wins.