Last week, the Montreal Alouettes played ugly and survived with a win. This week, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory to even their 2017 record at 1-1.
The first half of this game was quiet but encouraging, as the Alouettes defense forced a pair of turnovers and got 10 points as a result, with Darian Durant finding Tiquan Underwood for a touchdown and Boris Bede notching a field goal. Montreal’s defense also made Edmonton’s heroes of last week look ordinary, as they shut down both Brandon Zylstra and Duke Williams.
Perennial all-star Adarius Bowman looked really bad in the first half dropping passes, including a sure-fire touchdown pass from quarterback Mike Reilly, who wasn’t able to do a whole lot in the first half. Edmonton also lost the services of running back John White, whose knee buckled on his second turnover. Early reports have White tearing his ACL on the play and if that’s the case, he will join J.C. Sherritt and Cory Underwood on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
While it wasn’t the most awe-inspiring football, Montreal still managed to retain the lead going into halftime, limiting the Eskimos to a lone Sean Whyte field goal. I did say on Twitter that the Alouettes would be wise to make adjustments at the half, because you knew that Edmonton was going to.
Boy, did they ever.
When The Eskimos kicked off the second half, they grinded their way down the field and scored a touchdown with a super-human effort from backup running back Travon Van. Not exactly known for his muscle, Van absorbed a shot from both Branden Dozier and Chris Ackie at the goal line and spun into the end zone. A missed extra point attempt and it was time for Montreal to go back to work, still leading.
Montreal managed to respond back by marching down the field and with some ill-advised penalties from the Eskimos, managed to get all the way down to the Edmonton one yard line for a first and goal. Usually at this point, a Vernon Adams plunge into the end zone is a mere formality.
Except in this case, it turned out to be the beginning of the end for the Alouettes.
As Adams and crew lined up, a flag was thrown for too many men, as National receiver Alex Pierzchalski was late in getting himself off the field. That backed up the Als ten yards. Then a procedure call on OL Brian Simmons. Another five yard penalty for Montreal.
With it being first and goat at the 16 yard line (!), Darian Durant found Tyrell Sutton with a 16 yard catch and run that led to a touchdown. Except another flag was thrown as Sutton crossed the goal line. This one was for an illegal tandem block on Alouettes guard Phillip Blake, as it appeared that he grabbed Sutton and more or less threw him into the end zone.
On further review, Blake was steadying himself from an opposing defender and grabbed onto Sutton, who actually shook off his own teammate to stumble into the end zone. That ten yard penalty negated the touchdown and pushed the Montreal back to the 26 yard line.
The best Montreal could do at that point was to settle for another Boris Bede field goal to extend the lead by 4. A gut-wrenching drive that pretty much took the wind out of their sails. Leaving points out on the field was the theme of the night for Montreal and it came back to haunt them towards the end.
After Sean Whyte drained a career-best 55 yard field goal to cut the Alouettes’ lead down to one, Darian Durant went back to work to try to extend the lead. It didn’t go so well as Eskimos defender Kenny Ladler picked off Durant to swing the momentum back on Edmonton’s side for good. Adarius Bowman made up for the yips he had throughout the game by hauling in a touchdown from Mike Reilly.
A two point convert would make this a one score game. But at that point Montreal’s offense clearly was no match for Edmonton’s defense, which seemed to get stronger as the game progressed. Another Bede field goal was all that Montreal could do when it came to putting points on the board as time wound down.
The Eskimos hung on for the win to go 2-0 while the loss means that Montreal remains tied for first place in the East with the Toronto Argonauts, who also lost their first game of the season. This was the kind of game that Montreal could have stolen a win from but they simply could not stop stepping on their own toes.
For all of his talk about making the run a more vital part of the attack, it’s unclear why head coach Jacques Chapdelaine didn’t feature Sutton more as he was the only one truly generating any offense in the second half. The Eskimos’ D-Line is fierce but Tyrell was able to break out for some significant gains all game long, logging over 100 all-purpose yards. But instead, it was back to throwing in tight coverage to force balls where they shouldn’t be.
Abandoning the run, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, ill-advised penalties….Say, didn’t Alouettes Nation get upset because the team didn’t bring back former head coach Marc Trestman? Those are all hallmarks of his Alouette teams of years previous that are still being followed by Montreal today, unfortunately.
There was a lot of bend in the defense, but very little break. They did get a lot of pressure on Reilly to make him unable to connect with his receivers in the first half, but then took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half. Jonathon Mincy was having another stellar game only to have his night was cut short, leaving with a concussion. Ryan Phillips made his Alouettes debut and the long-time vet looked ordinary at best. Not having many training camp reps really showed as he was bested a few times throughout the evening.
The Alouettes are far from hitting the panic button, but there’s a lot of minor things that need cleaning up. Both 2017 games showed several miscues and hesitation at times and hopefully it’s all part of the process as this team learns to gel and get themselves figured out. But when play-by-play announcer Rod Black is constantly reminding you that the Alouettes are leaving points on the board, that is a glaring problem that needs immediate fixing.
That’s all for now. Montreal will now reload and focus on their next home game this coming Thursday against the BC Lions, who will be staying in the east after playing the Argos this past Friday. So there will be no taking advantage of the time zone difference when the Lions come east as teams have done in years previous.
A lot of people have predicted that BC can be the team that could emerge as a Grey Cup contender. They lost a close game to Edmonton and did just enough to beat the Argos in Toronto. Like Montreal, they could easily be 2-0 or 0-2 had a few different things gone differently. The Alouettes will have to be better overall to get things back on track.
The Alouettes are still a very competitive football team. Some nights are just better than others. On to the next one.