That was a fun week of being in first place. The football gods giveth and the football gods taketh away.
With the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts winning their respective games, the Montreal Alouettes needed a win not only to keep pace in the tight CFL Eastern division but they could also clinch a playoff berth. But the Saskatchewan Roughriders (in a tight playoff race of their own) spoiled the party for the Birds of Prey this past Saturday.
The Roughriders escaped Percival Molson Stadium with a 19-14 win, punching their ticket to the Grey Cup playoffs. With the loss, Montreal now sits in third place in the East and will have to wait until this coming Saturday to try again and qualify for a playoff spot. With their win earlier in the day, the Argonauts claim the first available playoff spot in the East while Montreal and Hamilton need to win next week to get in.
Both the Alouettes and Riders struggled offensively in the first half of Saturday night’s affair. Only a David Cote field goal and a William Powell touchdown late in the second quarter to show for what was a defensive battle. In his third straight start, Alouettes QB Matthew Shiltz looked fine to start with but struggled behind an offensive line beset by injuries as the game progressed. Even leaning on William Stanback was a fool’s errand as the Riders’ defensive line was able to bottle up the league’s leading rusher on a number of occasions.
The Riders touchdown was set up by a pick from Louchez Purifoy, who read Shiltz’s eyes easily and swung the momentum to the visitors. But in the second half, all the Riders could do was notch field goals as Brett Lauther did all the scoring for Saskatchewan with four perfectly kicked balls sailing through the uprights. Riders QB Cody Fajardo moved the ball decently enough, but he got a good look at Montreal’s bend-but-don’t-break defense that only allowed him to complete roughly half of his passes. But this subdued effort was just enough as the Alouettes once again allowed themselves to be their own worst enemy at a very inopportune time.
This Saturday saw the debut of Trevor Harris in an Alouettes uniform. The “insurance policy” was finally to take reps with the team and suited up as the backup to Matthew Shiltz. I truly believed that the only way that Harris was going to see any action was if Shiltz was knocked out of the game due to injury. Having played two very solid games before this one, I felt that Shiltz earned the benefit of the doubt if he were to falter in any way against the Riders.
Well, all it took for Alouettes Head Coach Khari Jones to hit panic button was a very stout Saskatchewan defense and another thrown pick by Shiltz (which was later ruled an incomplete pass by the CFL Command Centre) for Harris to line up under centre. Statistically Harris did play better than what Shiltz did, going 12 of 15 while throwing the Alouettes’ lone TD pass to Eugene Lewis. But this offensive line didn’t play much better for Harris than they did for Shiltz. As this upcoming week of practice unfolds, I have a feeling that the narrative will change and allow Trevor Harris the chance to become the playoff hero that many CFL folks expected him to be when he was acquired from the Edmonton Elks.
If that’s the case it would be truly unfortunate for Shiltz, who’s fought like hell to get this leadership opportunity for this franchise. You naturally want to put your best foot forward if you’re the Alouettes as a playoff spot looms large but remains an attainable goal. Truthfully, I don’t think any quarterback would have looked good behind this banged-up and porous O-Line that we saw this past Saturday. I think had Jones given Shiltz the chance to redeem himself this past Saturday, he would have. While Harris did give the Alouettes a spark, I can’t conclusively say that it was enough to anoint him as the starter going forward.
I think what it came down to was the suspect play-calling and the Riders’ ability to stifle William Stanback that played more of a factor in the loss versus the quarterback(s) play. In a lot of ways, this Alouettes team failed Matt Shiltz more than anything else. I can appreciate that you paid a pretty penny for Harris’ services and that he wasn’t going to be holding the clipboard for very long. But as that last series to end the game showed, the insertion of Harris isn’t the magic fix-all many expected it to be. This Alouettes squad prides itself on being a solid unit that wins and loses as a team, not due to any one player.
With three games left and two of them being against the league-best Winnipeg Blue Bombers, there better be a true answer for what exactly happened against the Riders and a lesson learned. Once again, this was a completely winnable game that managed to slip through their fingers. And November is certainly NOT the month where you want to let games get away from you.
That’s all for now. The Alouettes will play their final regular season road game versus the Bombers, who have sewn up the West and will surely be looking to avoid injury for the next couple of weeks. They have nothing to play for other than padding personal stats as they know that they will host the Western Final at IG Field.
Will the Blue Bombers be resting any or all of their starters in these next two games versus Montreal? While no team wants to get rusty, I am certain that they don’t want to risk injury as Montreal has plenty to fight for. The Alouettes can capture a Grey Cup playoff berth with a win and they’ve played their best football on the road this season. I’m not saying that the Alouettes will be gifted an automatic win or that this is a trap game for the Bombers. Just that I am curious to the compete level of both teams as they enter this home and home series.
If Montreal wants to have any hope of hosting a playoff game, they have to steal at least one of these games versus Winnipeg and also beat the Ottawa RedBlacks in the regular season finale. The Alouettes control their own destiny and will have only themselves to thank or blame for how this season finishes.
Be sure to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself break down the loss to the Green Riders and go over this upcoming home and home series with Winnipeg. You can find the podcast here, on Youtube and on your favourite podcast platforms! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.
We’re in the home stretch, folks. Already, it’s on to the next one. Thanks for reading.