Perhaps the bye week did do some good, after all.
The last time we saw the Montreal Alouettes on a football field, they let a twelve point lead slip through their fingers with 1:40 left in the game. They had nearly two weeks since then to let that fact marinate in their minds. They had to know that when they next stepped on to the field, that it simply could not happen again.
What the Alouettes needed was a clear, dominant win over their next adversary. And that’s exactly what they got last night with a 21-9 victory versus the Toronto Argonauts. Montreal needed two things to happen in order to reclaim first place in the CFL’s Eastern division; a solid performance from Darian Durant and this Noel Thorpe-coached defense to shut down Toronto’s firepower.
I’m happy to report that both goals were achieved, as Durant went 18/27 with a pair of touchdowns. Better yet, he didn’t throw a single interception, something that he has yet to be able to say in 2017 thus far. Durant was able to spread the ball around to his receivers and found both Ernest Jackson and George Johnson for touchdowns. Durant also made great use of the returning Tyrell Sutton, who is eager to get back into the CFL rushing race after missing the last two games with a leg injury.
While not posting the monster number of passing yards that he did in the previous two games, Darian looked a lot more poised and comfortable behind centre than he has in previous games for Montreal. I had said that after that game in Ottawa, he was finally starting to look like the quarterback Alouettes fans were promised back in January. The game versus Winnipeg sealed that thought with his mostly excellent performance. But after last night’s game, I think that now Doubles himself feels like this is 100% his team.
Defensively, this was an outstanding game for Montreal. This defense took a verbal beating for the past 15 days after they allowed Winnipeg to eke out a win. They had to come out strong against an Argos offense that featured some terrific threats, including former Alouettes Brandon Whitaker and S.J. Green.
Well folks, I’d say that limiting the Argos to a mere three field goals all game long is a good way to re-establish yourself as a defensive juggernaut. It did help that Jeff Mathews, who was subbing in for the injured Ricky Ray, really did not look good in that first half last night.
Argos Head Coach Marc Trestman chose Mathews over Cody Fajardo, who came in relief of Ray last week when the vet was injured versus Calgary. Throughout the week, everyone assumed it would be Fajardo who would get the start, as Mathews had not thrown a single pass all season long. But Trestman gambled on Mathews to start last night and the move failed miserably.
Mathews was attacked early and often by the Alouettes defense and were it not for the field goal by Liram Hajrullahu late in the second quarter, Noel Thorpe’s changes would be pitching a shutout against the first place team in the East. Mathews should thank his lucky stars that he had Anthony Coombs and a motivated Whitaker at his disposal or the Argos wouldn’t have ANY offensive highlights to speak of.
Despite being so highly touted by Trestman and his teammates, Mathews had a hard time finding his other targets. The idea of a world-class receiver like S.J. Green only having 32 yards receiving is unbelievable. It also speaks to the talents of Alouettes defenders Jonathon Mincy and Tyree Hollins, who were tasked with shutting down this elite receiver and did so masterfully.
One half of football from Mathews was more than enough for this legendary Argos coach. Trestman summoned Fajardo for the second half and despite the mobile quarterback literally running roughshod over the Alouettes’ D, the only one marking points in the second half for the Argos was Hajrullahu with a pair of field goals.
With time winding down, Fajardo did manage to find the end zone on two occasions for the Argos on their last drive. But the first touchdown pass was negated by a penalty to Argo lineman Chris Van Zeyl and on third down, Khalil Paden simply couldn’t hold onto the ball in the end zone. With that, the Argos turned the ball over on downs and handed first place over to the Alouettes as a result.
With the win, Montreal is technically tied with Toronto with a 3-4 record. But Montreal has the tiebreaker as a divisional foe. So round one of this home and home series goes to the Birds of Prey, with round two going next week at BMO Field.
Last night’s game had a very strange vibe to it as it was a homecoming of sorts for a lot of former Alouettes. This was the first time that Alouettes fans would be seeing guys like Marc Trestman, S.J. Green and Bear Woods wearing different colours than red, white and blue. Even the media folks had a hard time processing this feeling, as we are so accustomed to seeing these players as Alouettes. And now they aren’t.
In an interesting move to start things off, Coach Trestman sent out Green, Woods, Brandon Whitaker and Jeff Finley to serve as team captains for the coin toss. The move to send out former players for the coin toss is done frequently by NFL coaches for a number of reasons. Was this done last night to try to intimidate Montreal? Or just to serve as a reminder to all in attendance that these were the guys that were not retained by the current Alouettes’ brass?
It also felt strange when PA Announcer Jacques Moreau made the announcement of a catch as though Green were still a member of the Alouettes. That move met with several boos, presumably from fans there to support Montreal and deride Toronto. Again, how does one react? I think for a brief moment, Moreau forgot that S.J. wasn’t making that great catch for the Alouettes.
And yes, Alouettes fans technically shouldn’t be wanting Green or any other former Alouettes to do well when they are playing Montreal. Considering how many former members of the Alouettes are now in Toronto (including the injured Alan-Michael Cash and former Als GM Jim Popp, who was not in attendance yesterday), I can understand why so many folks felt conflicted as to who to cheer for and when.
Even the players felt it too. In speaking with a lot of these former Alouettes after the game, you can tell that they are happy to be still playing football in the Canadian Football League and are enjoying their time with the Argonauts. But after seeing the love that Alouettes Nation still has for these guys, I’m sure they too didn’t know how to feel being on that field that they used to call home for so many years.
It’s so easy to say that this is a business and you can’t let emotion get the better of you. But last night, there were a lot of highs and lows for everyone at Percival Molson Stadium. This game means so much to a lot of people, both on and off the field. You may not like how it goes sometimes, but the love will be there for always.
It will be interesting to see what it will be like if things stay the way they are and these two teams are battling for a playoff spot later on this season.
So as I said, round one of this division tilt goes to Montreal. Round Two will go next Saturday at Toronto’s BMO Field. We’ll see if Ricky Ray will be healthy enough to participate in this game or if Cody Fajardo’s heroics were enough to convince Marc Trestman to give the youngster a full 60 minutes to work with.
Montreal will have to build on this win. The players I spoke with were glad to get this important win, but their work is far from completed. But every single Alouette player that I spoke to all had the same sentiment; We have something special here and it’s JUST starting to take shape.
I had that feeling with this team even after the heartbreaker in the ‘Peg. I do think this Montreal Alouettes team is coming together and finding itself. They know they have something speical here and it will be up to them to get it all together. I believe they will and it will be winning games like this that will help solidify those feelings.
The second third of the season is underway. And first place feels pretty darn good.