History and heartbreak on a Thursday night in Montreal

In the year 2017, there seems to be something magical in the air when the Montreal Alouettes and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers play each other. Almost a shame that they only play each other twice in a year, unless each squad can make it to the Grey Cup.

Based on the two games we saw this year, I don’t think anyone would mind terribly seeing a Montreal-Winnipeg Grey Cup match at TD Place this coming November.

While the first game was marred with some controversy this past Thursday’s game was truly one for the ages. It was such a battle that 60 minutes simply wasn’t enough; two more mini-games were required to determine a winner.

Thanks to an ill-advised throw by Alouettes QB Darian Durant, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were able to escape with a 34-31 victory. Considering that nobody was willing to give Montreal a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this game, it was remarkable how this team wasn’t willing to give up and fought like hell just to force overtime.

Since coming back from their bye week, the Alouettes haven’t really played any inspired football. They handled a Ricky Ray-less Argos with a half-hearted effort, then were shredded when Ray returned to the lineup the following week. That pedantic showing didn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence from the Alouette faithful.

Montreal reverted back to their bland style of football and the Blue Bombers took advantage.

Much like future Hall of Famer Henry Burris, there seems to be two Darian Durants; Good Darian and Bad Darian. This game featured both in full force. It’s frustrating to see how Durant can look so bad with throwing interceptions and all these little dink passes for 2-4 yards apiece, then later on watch him launch the ball downfield for major gains.

Durant’s touchdown pass to George Johnson was a terrific strike, with Johnson looking like a young Duron Carter every time he steps onto the field. Considering how badly Montreal is still needing a good National receiver, watching the former University of Western Mustang star perform like he has been has been a real treat.

It took a major effort from the offense to crawl back and tie this game going into halftime. I don’t know why, but this Alouettes team seems to relish being behind and forced to play catch-up. Start the half weakly, then turn on the jets towards the end and hope there’s still time on the clock. That’s your 2017 Montreal Alouettes.

This was a night for the historic efforts, as slotback Nik Lewis was knocking on the door to CFL immortality. When the game started, Thick Nik only needed eight catches to tie Geroy Simon as the league’s all-time leader in receptions. Lewis inched along to history, one catch at a time. I did say before the game that if Durant leaned more on Nik, that only good things would happen.

Sure enough, Nik’s tireless efforts got the Alouettes down the field time and time again. How appropriate that the two history-making catches that Lewis had were just as the Alouettes needed to stay alive with time winding down. After a spectacular touchdown by Ernest Jackson to get the Alouettes within 3 and a quick series by the Bombers, the Alouettes needed to get downfield and score.

After an incomplete pass to Jackson, Durant targeted Lewis. Nik tied Geroy’s record by rumbling 7 yards down field. On 3rd and 3 and with the game on the line, there was simply no other option for Doubles as he knew that there was no way Nik was going to be denied history. Nik took Durant’s pass and got the three yards needed and then some to sit alone atop the list of all-time receptions in the CFL.

Side Rant: A lot of people were upset that the Alouettes didn’t stop everything at that moment to salute Nik for this tremendous accomplishment. And Alouettes fans in attendance were given grief for not staying in the stands when the match was finished as the team and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie hastily tried to pay homage to Nik after the game.

One, the record was broken during a very intense portion of the game being played. I’m sure even Nik himself would have been embarrassed or even annoyed at having to stop the momentum just to be paid tribute to. And after this roller coaster of a game, I think fans were just emotionally spent and wanted to go home (Don’t forget, this was a Thursday night game that had just finished after 11pm EST.) Even if it’s a summer night, some people DO have to work the next day.

I believe the plan will be to properly honour Nik’s great accomplishment during next Thursday’s game, which I am sure everyone would have no problem with had it been mentioned. The Alouettes organization deserves a lot of the pot shots they’ve absorbed this season, but harping on them for mishandling this celebration is pointless.

If you think this team doesn’t appreciate what Nik Lewis has done for them in three years, you truly don’t get it. End Rant.

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After Lewis made history, the Alouettes could only muster a Boris Bede field goal to tie the game at 31.  With :09 left on the clock, the Alouettes kicked off to the Bombers. What followed was such a wacky series of events that words would not properly do it justice. So here’s a video of it:

https://www.cfl.ca/2017/08/26/internet-loving-bombers-als-punt-off/

Had Bede been able to boot the ball into the end zone, the game could have ended with a Rouge to win! Unfortunately on the second sequence where Daryl Townsend recovered the ball, he didn’t attempt to kick it to end zone for that winning Rouge. This is where special teams play is so important. Having a special teams coach that isn’t quite so versed in the CFL and its nuances really showed here.

Bede should have stayed as far back as possible for these instances to boot the ball towards the end zone. The ball could have turned live at any moment and even an Alouettes touchdown would have been possible. Alouettes fans will surely remember this play from the 2010 season:

Just part of the fun of being a fan of this great league.

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But alas, despite the heroics of the Alouettes to stay tied in OT, a feel-good victory at home was not as scripted as it was the last time these two teams played. Darian Durant was picked off again by Winnipeg’s Chris Randle during the second OT mini game and a Justin Medlock field goal was a mere formality.

The Alouettes now sit at 3-6 and still remain in the mix for the Eastern division, but this was another winnable game that got away from them. This is not a team that can afford to squander away these chances. Even if the end result is that this team can hang with even the very best that this league has to offer, it still comes down to wins and losses. Three wins ain’t gonna cut it.

Yes, they did end up scoring 30+ points, but getting there was not half the fun. This football team has been in need of a real offensive coordinator for YEARS and it was ever clearer than ever this past Thursday. While it’s great that Alouettes head coach Jacques Chapdelaine can speak French for the media that barely covers them and players still want to play for him, the series of plays that have been set forth by him are terrible.

All of these little dink passes for 3-4 yards are WORTHLESS. Durant keeps checking down and getting nowhere as a result. The running backs keep going off-tackle and I hate to tell this coaching staff this, but the rest of the league has caught on. This offensive line has improved in 2017, but they aren’t creating the holes that guys like Tyrell Sutton and Brandon Rutley need.

I swear, ever since Scott Milanovich got tired of waiting for Marc Trestman to go to the NFL and became Toronto’s head coach in 2012, this Alouettes team has floundered time and time again when it comes to finding an OC worth a damn. Look at the names that have held this dubious title for Montreal since Milanovich jumped ship:

  • Marcus Brady
  • Mike Miller/Doug Berry
  • Rick Worman (VERY briefly) / Ryan Dinwiddie
  • Turk Schonert
  • Anthony Calvillo

Of those names, only ONE is an actual OC in this league. The rest are NFL castoffs or former CFL QBs that were thrown into the mix far too soon and flamed out as a result. Doug Berry was once a brilliant football mind but the game had already passed him by when Montreal needed him to wipe former head coach Dan Hawkins‘ ass.

This team would rather have yes-men and would rather placate their legends than hire someone competent to lead the attack. I don’t believe that the Wetenhall family is still paying the salaries of all their former coaching mishires, so why not invest in someone who can actually put together an exciting, RELEVANT offense?

You broke the bank to get Darian Durant. You badly misjudged how hurt S.J. Green was. Your backup plan if Durant gets hurt is a 30+ year old quarterback who wasn’t good enough for the alleged “quarterback whisperer” to keep in Toronto. You want to make this team over into a new look that is nothing like the Jim Popp era that was the last four years in Montreal and I get that takes time.

But meanwhile, you have all this talent and are doing NOTHING with it. Watching this Alouettes offense is like having a Ferrari and putting regular gas in it. If keeping Jacques Chapdelaine is crucial because he can parle en francais, fine. But why not bring in a real OC who has real CFL experience instead of these CFL retreads, NFL rejects and never-will-bes? Last time I checked, there’s no salary cap on coaches.

I do have a name in mind, but I promised Jim Popp that I wouldn’t mention him anymore on this blog.

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I’ll stop before I say something I’ll regret. I will say that even despite this loss, the Alouettes did prove that they have the ability to not quit. I do feel that there’s no surrender in this locker room. This won’t be a pretty season, but I remain confident that this team will figure it out.

There is still a lot of racetrack; after all, the CFL season doesn’t truly start until after Labour Day. Let’s see how the Alouettes do as they prepare this coming week to host the Ottawa RedBlacks in their “rivalry” game.

As they say, on to the next one.

GO ALS GO!!!

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