This past Wednesday, Alouettes Nation saw two games for the price of one.
The first game featured a quarterback that made poor decisions and despite his best efforts, could only watch as his kicker made a pair of field goals to put points on the board. The second featured a seasoned veteran refusing to quit and playing his heart out, nearly willing his team to a hard-fought victory.
The question that begs from the minds and hearts of Alouettes fans is unquestionably, “Just which Darian Durant are we going to get tonight?”
The first half of this past Wednesday’s game versus the Ottawa RedBlacks was absolutely horrendous; Durant was picked off on the Alouettes’ first series and from that point, the team struggled to do anything right. A lot of the decisions by the veteran pivot were real head-scratchers as Montreal failed to generate much in the way of offense.
There were a few bright spots in the first half, thanks to the outstanding play of B.J. Cunningham and Nik Lewis. But even when Montreal entered the red zone, Durant still kept trying to put a square peg into a round hole. On Ottawa’s 5 yard line, Durant tried to connect with Tiquan Underwood and was intercepted by Antoine Pruneau, who the refs initially thought made illegal contact with Underwood.
In reality, it was a poorly thrown ball that Underwood tried to adjust for and he got burned as a result. The interception was bad; the ensuring Trevor Harris touchdown pass to a wide open Greg Ellingson was even worse. Ottawa came to play and even when they left points on the board, the RedBlacks hardly looked like a team still in search of their first victory of 2017.
Perhaps the most frustrating of Durant’s decisions was his insistence that he cannot be sacked. With incredible pressure on him due to a misjudgment from his centre, he tried in earnest to throw the ball away to avoid a QB sack. But instead, Durant ended up fumbling a ball that was initially whistled dead. The inability to protect a football is not what we should expect from a quarterback who’s been in this league a decade-plus.
The fact that Alouettes kicker Boris Bede was able to put two field goals on the board in that first half is nothing short of a miracle. You can maybe make the argument that the Alouettes had little time to prepare for this game. A fair excuse, except Ottawa had the same amount of prep time and they also had a road game in Edmonton to play the week before.
So I lay the blame for this putrid first half at the feet of both Durant and this coaching staff. The Alouettes took the RedBlacks very lightly and they had no answer for their onslaught.
I’ve accused the Alouettes of not making halftime adjustments in nearly all of their previous football games in 2017. Thankfully, Darian Durant surely used the pause in this game to realize that he’s not been playing like the champion that he can be. The lousy Darian Durant stayed in the TD Place dressing room and out came Darian Durant, former Grey Cup-winning quarterback.
Montreal’s first drive of the second half was a lot more fruitful as not only did future Hall of Famer Nik Lewis nab his 1000th career reception with a nine yard pass from Durant, but Tiquan Underwood was able to find the end zone. I, along with the rest of Alouettes Nation have been impatiently waiting for the governor to be taken off of Doubles. That deep bomb to Tiquan was classic Darian Durant; straight shot with no hesitation and complete faith in the hands of his receiver.
Another RedBlacks touchdown would re-dampen the spirits of Montreal’s faithful, as Trevor Harris and his receiving corps made the Alouettes’ vaunted defense look ordinary at best. Harris carved up the D like the proverbial birds they are and once again, hope looked completely lost. But Darian Durant wasn’t going down without a fight.
On the very next drive, Durant marched his team down the field and was able to find the man of a thousand catches for another touchdown. This game seemed to energize Lewis as it progressed and he stepped huge to help out his quarterback. Perhaps Durant realized that while trying to find his deep threats are important, maybe ensuring that his stout slotback gets some touches isn’t a bad thing either.
The fourth quarter featured both defenses turning in a masterful performance. A lot of bend, but very little break. Whether they deserved to be or not, Montreal was still very much in this game and they needed to find the end zone if they wanted any hopes of extending Ottawa’s winless streak.
With 5:49 left on the clock, Darian Durant put this team on his back and did a great job getting his team down the field while also managing the clock to ensure that if/when the Alouettes scored, that Ottawa would have very little of it to try scoring. Finding former RedBlack Ernest Jackson for an oustanding play was one of many plays that Durant engineered to move the Alouettes across the field, racking up the passing yards along the way.
The Alouettes faced 3rd and 1 twice on this critical drive. The first time, Vernon Adams pulled off that masterful end-around to B.J. Cunningham that we saw versus Saskatchewan earlier in the season for more than the one yard needed to extend the drive. The Alouettes were still in business and it looked like scoring that go-ahead touchdown was a mere formality.
But alas, the “football gods” give and they also take away. Facing third and one on Ottawa’s eight yard line, Adams took the snap and plunged into the pile, looking as though he gave the Alouettes a fresh set of downs to work with. But the referee wasn’t convinced, asking for a measurement. Whomever spotted this ball needs to go get their eyes examined:
I’m not typically the kind to particularly whine about how the CFL’s referees are incompetent, but this is yet another in a series of just how teams not only have to battle their opponents, but the officiating as well. See that yellow line? That’s supposed to be the first down marker. See that red circle? That’s Vernon Adams’ arm with the football CLEARLY past the line!
With the ensuing turnover on downs, all Ottawa had left to do was notch a couple of first downs and they were finally able to post a victory this season.
Let me be clear in stating that I don’t subscribe to the theory that the refs cost Montreal this game, because only the most delusional/uninformed of people would say that. The Alouettes lost this game all by themselves in the first half with some very bad play by their quarterback. That’s simply inexcusable.
But by the same token, the second half of this game was where we got to see the Darian Durant that was promised to us in late January; a true winner who wouldn’t quit and would fight to the bitter end. For every bad decision that Durant made earlier, he would shine with a jaw-dropping play that kept the chains moving. If that Darian Durant had played all four quarters, this would have been a much different story.
When it was all said and done, Doubles posted an astonishing 452 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns against the RedBlacks. But that fumble, those ten incompletions and those two confirmed interceptions was like death by a thousand paper cuts for Montreal fans that suffered through the Troy Smith and Rakeem Cato QB eras; after all, those QBs played lousy games as well and didn’t command the salary that a Darian Durant does.
I want to believe that this loss will really stick in Durant’s craw and as a result, make him even better. This could have been another great victory for the old gunslinger and the Alouettes on top of coming back to beat Calgary the week before. Instead, Montreal hands Ottawa their first win of the season, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the process.
Montreal now faces a tough test next week as they head back out on the road to Winnipeg. The Blue Bombers are also a team that can play these types of maddening games in 2017; both awful and amazing in the span of four quarters. We’ll preview this tilt next week here on The ALSternative.
Be sure to tune into the Alouettes FlightDeck as well as Tim Capper and I break down this loss to the RedBlacks and look ahead to the game against the Blue Bombers. You can find every episode of the podcast at the link above as well as on iTunes & Google Play Music.
On to the next one, as they say.