It appears that La Ronde isn’t the only place in Montreal where you can experience what it’s like to be on a rollercoaster.
This past Friday, anyone who attended the football game at Percival Molson Stadium was put through a myriad of emotions. Dizzying highs, terrifying lows and when it was all over, you probably wanted to throw up into a garbage can on your way out.
The Montreal Alouettes had their three game winning streak snapped, losing 30-27 to the Ottawa RedBlacks. It took all 60 minutes plus a little extra as this game required overtime to determine a winner. With the win, Ottawa stopped their four game losing streak and registered the Alouettes’ first loss at home in 2019.
What was especially disappointing for Alouettes Nation was that this game was 100% winnable; the defense was on point, only allowing a mere 244 yards of offense while causing multiple turnovers yet again. The offense started the game hot and was clicking, scoring 17 points in the first quarter. The crowd was amped up, making noise on defense and were as engaged as ever without the need of gimmicks like throwing cheap t-shirts into the crowd.
So what happened? Where did it all go wrong for the Alouettes?
Simply put, an old Achilles heel flared up at the worst possible time and it was the only reason Ottawa was even in this game.
For years, the Alouettes’ special teams had been a glaring weakness and the inability to stop returners had cost them several crucial games. This season however, things appeared to be under control. The special teams unit had done their job inauspiciously, not making highlight worthy plays but also not allowing anything major to happen.
They didn’t bring much to the table but also didn’t take anything off of it. They were just there and that was okay. But this past Friday the special teams unit got owned by a virtual unknown named Devonte Dedmon, who now has become a viral sensation thanks to the Alouettes’ inability to stop him from returning kicks for touchdowns.
Dedmon scored not one but TWO touchdowns thanks to the lack of any sort of tackling from the special teams unit. If this game was two hand touch, then Dedmon would still be just another guy wearing a white uniform in Montreal. But alas, tackles were needed to stop this now overnight sensation and the Alouettes seemed to be fresh out of those.
Had Dedmon not scored those touchdowns, the RedBlacks’ score would have been quite paltry. Ottawa quarterback Dominique Davis was 20 of 34 and could only muster 164 yards of passing while being picked off twice. He did manage to throw one touchdown pass and kicker Lewis Ward was able to notch a hat trick of field goals (including the eventual game winner in OT). That was effectively the RedBlacks’ offense in a nutshell.
Guys like Ciante Evans and Taylor Loffler were having a field day for Montreal when it came to causing Ottawa’s numerous turnovers. Patrick Levels and Henoc Muamba also helped add to this incredible defense with their all-star level of play. Between these men playing lights-out football and the crowd dialing up the noise to an ear-splitting level, there’s no way Ottawa should have been in this game.
But they were given life in the third quarter when Ottawa defender J.R. Tavai rung the bell of one Vernon Adams Jr. and forced him out of the game. In came Antonio Pipkin at quarterback for the Alouettes and immediately, the mood on the field changed.
But as you will see, it was not for the better.
Indeed, it felt like a tale of two games when it came to both of Montreal’s quarterbacks. Adams was responsible for 14 of Montreal’s 17 first quarter points, running in for a pair of touchdowns. He was distributing the ball evenly and once again engaged in his running backs William Stanback and Jeremiah Johnson to move the chains.
Even when the offense could only go so far and relied on Boris Bede to provide field goals, you felt like this game was in good hands. Adams has proven himself to be a real leader during that three game winning streak and given how this game had been progressing, it could have been an ugly win for Montreal had he made it through. And ugly wins count just as much in the standings.
But football isn’t a kind sport. After Tavai made contact with Adams’ head, the concussion spotters in the stands ordered Montreal’s pivot off the field and into the dressing room for the usual protocol. In came Pipkin, who was just added back to active duty for the first time since the season opener in Edmonton where he was knocked out of that game with an ankle injury.
Pipkin did not play well in relief of Adams, trying too hard to make that dazzling highlight reel play versus just trying to move the ball downfield. Several drives were stalled with these incomplete/overthrown passes. He seemed to have no rapport with the receivers and several passes were dropped by the normally sure-handed Eugene Lewis and B.J. Cunningham.
Perhaps most troubling was the exclusion of the run game when Pipkin was behind centre. Stanback was a ghost in the second half, serving to block for his quarterback making incomplete passes rather than him running with the ball. It was obvious that Ottawa defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe had game-planned for Stanback again as the RedBlacks’ run defense was extremely tight. But Pipkin avoiding handing off to Stanback was inexcusable.
We saw this lack of cohesion from Pipkin early in the first game of the season and many played it off as opening night jitters. And yes, he went into this game unexpectedly. But as a professional athlete, Pipkin had to be prepared to step in when his number was called and nothing that I saw last Friday night suggested that he was.
The Alouettes did manage to keep things from completely unraveling and this game went into overtime deadlocked at 27. The RedBlacks scored a field goal in their first mini-game and Montreal had to answer with at least that in order to continue.
On second down, Pipkin connected with Stanback for a pass. Regrettably, Stanback failed to maintain control of the ball as he went down and fumbled it for the RedBlacks to recover. In a flash, this contest was over. Game. Set. Match.
In reality, neither team deserved to win this game. But this loss was not solely on Pipkin or the offense or even the special teams. This was 100% a team loss as there were plenty of opportunities for Montreal to put this game away and they didn’t. Simple as that.
One thing is for certain; this team plays differently when Adams is under centre versus when Pipkin is. I do remain firm in the belief that Pipkin will be a force in this league for years to come. But I can’t help but feel like he was given too much, too soon in his brief CFL career and the 24 year old just isn’t ready to be the man yet.
His post-game comments didn’t help matter either, as he seemed irritated by the media questioning his role as to why things didn’t go in the Alouettes’ favour. A lot of people were anointing Pipkin as the next great Alouettes QB after barely winning a couple of games last season. Perhaps that may have gone to his head a little bit as he went into training camp this season and then unexpectedly into this game.
Whereas Adams has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an actual leader and has grown considerably from when he himself was a hotshot rookie like Pipkin. This has become Vernon’s team and while Pipkin may be eager to prove his worth, he isn’t going to be handed anything on a silver platter.
Depending on Adams’ health with this concussion, Pipkin may get the chance to prove that he isn’t everything that’s now being suggested of him. But he will have to work hard to prove himself to his teammates and win their trust again. If Adams can’t go next week versus Saskatchewan, Pipkin will get the opportunity to lead again and he would be wise to make the most of it by being a lot more prepared.
That’s all for now. This past Friday was clearly not the result that Alouettes fans were hoping for. But even in this losing effort, I think this team has proven to its fans that they are getting back on track. This Alouettes team can be extremely entertaining to watch again and that will hopefully translate to even more folks coming to the stadium on the mountain to see them in action.
The folks that were gleeful in watching this team lose before are starting to change their tune. They see the hard work being done and the progress made thus far. People are ready to believe in this team again. Hopefully this loss will serve to help the players get their focus back as they prepare for a tough stretch of football in August.
Win or lose, this team has plenty of fight in them. Let’s see if they can get it together and start a new winning streak next Friday.
As always, thanks for reading. On to the next one.