“We fu**ing suck. Until these motherfu**ers take control and look in the mirror, it will continue to be no good. Everyone in the locker room has to be accountable. It’s not about character. We didn’t play very well.”
I think with those 40 words, Montreal Alouettes slotback Nik Lewis summarized this past Friday’s game better than I could ever hope to. But I’ll try.
Many thought that the Als were in a bad spot after losing at home to Ottawa a fortnight ago, but no one could have predicted the onslaught that took place at Percival Molson Stadium this past Friday. The Birds of Prey were throttled 31-7 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was an abysmal effort from the Alouettes as their offense could barely put together anything resembling a scoring drive, relying solely on the foot of Boris Bede to produce any kind of points. And even then, that proved to be disastrous.
The only players that bothered to show up for this game are the Alouettes’ D-Line, Jovon Johnson, B.J. Cunningham and the aforementioned Lewis. Everyone else, coaches included, must have thought that they were still on the bye week because this was one of the sorriest performances from this football team in recent memory.
There was very little in the way of bright spots, as Montreal couldn’t even sniff the red zone at all during this game. It was the hope that young quarterback Rakeem Cato would come in for the fallen Kevin Glenn and dazzle everyone with the playmaking ability that won him favour early on last season. Instead, Cato struggled to maintain any sort of rhythm and when he wasn’t being planted on the ground, he was literally running for his life.
Cato’s numbers last Friday aren’t terrible on paper, completing 18 of 25 passes for 203 yards. But a lot of those completed passes were essentially laterals, not letting any receivers break the 100 yard mark. Rakeem also turned the ball over twice and failed to sustain any sort of momentum, leaving head coach Jim Popp no choice but to yank him in the fourth quarter and put Vernon Adams into the game for mop-up duty.
Cato wasn’t being done any favours by his O-Line, which was porous at best. This all-Canadian line allowed an unacceptable EIGHT sacks on their QBs, including five on the lithe signal-caller Cato. Suffice to say, they’ll be buying him steak dinners this week and not the other way around. And at 175 pounds, Rakeem would be well-served to eat a steak or three to bulk up for these impromptu meetings with the turf.
Unfortunately, these are the growing pains that we had talked about earlier in the season as youngsters like Jacob Ruby and Phillipe Gagnon have to replace veterans like Josh Bourke and Luc Brodeur-Jourdain. They will get better and learn from this experience, but it doesn’t make this bitter pill any easier to swallow.
I have no idea what kind of game plan Anthony Calvillo and Jacques Chapdelaine drew up for the offense, but I sincerely hope they have already thrown it in the garbage and set the trash can on fire to be certain that it will never come back. They did not have their young quarterback prepared at all and failed to adjust accordingly for the second half when Hamilton did. It’s easy to blame the quarterback when everything falls apart, but Cato doesn’t call the plays; Calvillo does. And when you have games like this that are pure hot garbage, you have to be able to take the rose-coloured glasses off and call it for what it was; a travesty.
Everyone loves AC; as do I. So many people seem to want AC to be the main man for this team. But if he can’t adjust to the opponents and get his players on the same page, then we have a major problem. If we want to throw shade at the other ineffective OCs that this team has gone through since Scott Milanovich bolted for the Toronto Argonauts, then we have to hold our beloved legend’s feet to the fire as well.
AC may be a great head coach one day. He may even coach this Alouettes team to a Grey Cup one day. But last Friday’s game proved that he still has a lot to learn before we can make him the man to lead. All the rah-rah, fiery speeches uttered at press conferences aren’t worth a hill of beans if this team can’t even score a bloody touchdown, even in garbage time.
And the other fella who many feel should be the field boss of this team? Well, he’s not exactly off the hook either. Not when his defense gets 31 points hung on them.
Defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe and D-Line coach Anwar Stewart can be credited for ensuring that this D-Line was ready to go. But with the exception of Jovon Johnson and his QB sack/interception, everyone in the secondary seemed to be playing catch-up to the Tabbies. If you’re a CFL OC reading this and about to play the Alouettes, here’s the easiest way for your team to move the chains against Montreal; have your QB throw the ball towards the flats to your checkdown receiver. I promise that ZERO Alouette defenders will be there and you’re guaranteed at least 8 yards on the play!
Once again, this defense is spending far too much time on the field and by the end of the 3rd quarter, they are gassed. The first half of this game was a defensive battle on both ends (read: snoozefest for offense) but only one team made adjustments at the half and that was the key difference to the Tiger-Cats gaining their second win of this young season.
Not that he really needed a fire lit under him, but Hamilton’s Brandon Banks clearly remembered being denied his touchdown this time last year in this stadium. He atoned for that in grand style, as he returned a booming Boris Bede punt 86 yards for a touchdown. On the return, Banks ran circles around Montreal’s special teamers and they were so unable to even touch him, you’d think they were told beforehand that Banks had the Zika virus.
A far cry from last year when ST Coach Kavis Reed was worrying himself silly about Banks, only to coach his players into stopping the speedy returner in his tracks. But this is a new season and Banks was back to scorching this Alouettes team, putting points on the board as a result. Between that and kicker Brett Maher‘s five field goals, the Tiger-Cats didn’t need their offense or defense to be great in order to win. They just had to show up and keep their mistakes minimal, which they did.
So where do we go from here, Alouettes Nation? We have a team in seeming disarray, starting at the top and trickling all the way down. I’d be lying if the constant challenging of things that cannot be challenged by this team’s head coach didn’t concern me. The sergeants of this squadron can’t seem to get the troops to fall in line because they want to be the general. Plus the injection of new blood is simply not taking as well as it needs to.
Something has to give. While it’s still early in the season, there does need to be a major shift in attitude on this team. It took a savvy vet like Nik Lewis to call out his very own teammates on this BS and make his frustrations clear as day. He knows that this team has the talent to win. They just need to do better as a whole.
Only the most fool-hardy fans and this team’s miserable beat writer will write off the Montreal Alouettes this season after a mere three games. This is still a very talented team at its core. Many of the veterans on this team have won or at least played in Grey Cups and that simply doesn’t happen by accident. This past Friday may have just been a bad day at the office and even the most successful people have those from time to time.
In two weeks, the Montreal Alouettes will retire the jersey of one of the finest players that has ever suited up for them. It will be a trip down memory lane for fans, as they also welcome the team that Montreal beat twice for their last two Grey Cup championships. Many people will fondly remember the “good ol’ days”, when Montreal was a dominant force on the football field.
As much as I abhor rehashing the past, perhaps that this event will inspire this entire group to pull up their proverbial socks and remember they too can be a great team like those championship Alouettes of 2009 and 2010. With the exception of the Ottawa RedBlacks, the East looks fairly wide open this season. There’s still a ways to go before you throw this Montreal team in its grave. The great thing about the Canadian Football League is that anything is possible.
But it does have to start at the top and Montreal’s coaching staff needs to remember why they are in the position that they are now; the desire for this team to have stability and leadership. That’s what was sold to this club’s supporters and they bought in. Now is the time where the Montreal Alouettes need to practice what they have preached.
As they say, on to the next one.