There’s still some fight left in these Birds

After a less than stellar first outing, Johnny Football came to play in the nation’s capital.

Looking to put his dreadful debut behind him, Johnny Manziel came into Ottawa’s TD Place determined to prove that he can lead the Montreal Alouettes to a victory over the host RedBlacks. And this past Saturday night, he nearly did just that.

In a remarkable display of mediocre football from both teams, the Alouettes actually led for the lion’s share of this game. But a few miscues and blown opportunities allowed Ottawa to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, besting the Alouettes 24-17.

Compared to his first outing, Manziel looked a lot more poised and polished under centre. His final numbers were not mind-blowing, going 16/26 for 168 yards and no TD passes. But most importantly, Manziel had ZERO interceptions. A major improvement from the four picks he threw versus his old squad the week before.

If anything, his incomplete passes felt more like the receivers are still not accustomed to how Johnny plays. On more than one occasion, it seemed as though the receivers quit their routes or underestimated just how their quarterback would get out of tricky situations.

Montreal’s defense also took advantage of some very lacklustre play-calling from RedBlacks OC Jaime Elizondo. Despite Ottawa QB Trevor Harris making some nice throws to move the chains, THREE forced fumbles on the RedBlacks’ first three series kept the RedBlacks off the scoreboard.

The Alouettes defense truly came alive in the second quarter as Harris’ pass was tipped into the hands of Chris Ackie, who returned it 37 yards to the house for Montreal’s first defensive touchdown in a LONG time. Ottawa tried on many occasions to respond with a score of their own, but could only manage a field goal and an earlier gift of a conceded safety as the first half came to a close.

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The second half was where both teams remembered that this was a football game and that touchdowns needed to be scored. Especially in Ottawa, where the chainsaw gang needed to earn their keep by sawing “wood cookies” after each successful RedBlacks touchdown.

Ottawa started the touchdown party by having Trevor Harris find R.J. Harris for a 14 yard TD dart. Ottawa chewed up a lot of the play clock on that series as Montreal’s defenders did a less than admirable job in finishing their tackles, letting Ottawa inch their way down into the red zone and eventually finding pay dirt.

Montreal then responded on the next series by employing something that has been mostly ignored all season long: the run game. Tyrell Sutton started off with a quick 9 yard scamper, then it was Montreal’s former Heisman trophy winning QB putting his feet to good use with an 11 and 8 yard dash to move the chains.

After a quick pass to Ernest Jackson (who awoke from his season long slumber to lead the Alouettes in receptions for this game!), Manziel took the ball and bolted 17 yards for the end zone. Johnny was about to score his first rushing CFL touchdown but Ottawa’s Jonathan Rose had other plans, knocking the ball loose and Manziel’s head nearly from his neck.

Thankfully for the Alouettes, Kristian Matte fell on top of the football in the end zone and Montreal was back in the lead. Remarkably, the Alouettes were able to carry the lead into the fourth quarter, something they have not been able to do since their lone 2018 win versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

But the head shot that Manziel took clearly made its impact, as he and the Montreal offense weren’t able to generate any more points. Thanks to some shoddy kicking by Boris Bede, Ottawa was able take advantage of good field position to chip away at the play clock and the lead with a pair of Lewis Ward field goals.

Tied at 17 and after a quick two and out by the Alouettes, the RedBlacks decided that they were going to win this game after all. With 2:42 left on the clock, Trevor Harris went surgeon on the beleaguered Alouettes defense, carving them up for first down after first down. He then handed off to William Powell who turned a pair of quality runs into the game-winning touchdown.

After sleep-walking through this game, the RedBlacks woke up at the right time to snatch the W. Thus sending RNation home happy and firmly in first place in the CFL’s Eastern division.

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It would have been easy to dismiss Johnny Manziel after that dog’s breakfast of a game versus Hamilton. But he vowed that he would be better and this past Saturday, he sure was.

Finding encouragement in a loss is a rather difficult venture, but there was a lot to like. Before getting his bell rung, Manziel was looking very solid. Leaning on Tyrell Sutton helped his case a lot. But anyone who could manage to get production from the underacheiving Ernest Jackson must be doing something right.

Manziel’s vision downfield was worlds better as well; as I said earlier, his receivers didn’t quite know what to make of his passes. That sort of chemistry takes time and once they get their QB’s idiosnycracies down pat, watch out.

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I’m still not entirely sure if Montreal has improved or if Ottawa just wasn’t interested in playing this game. Trevor Harris had nearly 500 yards passing but only had one TD to show for it. He did spread the ball around and was able to make something out of nothing, as he tends to do.

But the RedBlacks had all the tools in place to blow out the Alouettes and instead had to fight and claw their way to barely win this game. No gave Montreal a fighting chance in this game, but they nearly pulled off the upset. A few tackles here, some better kicking there and this game looks a lot different for the Birds of Prey.

This Alouettes offense is going to click and it will be magical. I just hope for their sake that it happens before Labour Day and not well after, when it will be too late.

Un bon effort, Montreal. On to the next one.

GO ALS GO!!!

 

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