The Montreal Alouettes should send BC Lions quarterback Michael Reilly a fruit basket or something.
Thanks to his inability to stop the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this past Friday, the Als stumbled into a Grey Cup playoff berth as the loss meant that a Western team wouldn’t be able to cross over for the first time since 2015. The Toronto Argonauts, Tiger-Cats and Alouettes will now represent the East in the playoffs with only the final seeding left to be determined. As a result, the next three games for the Alouettes will only serve to discover where they shall play their postseason game(s).
Montreal could have had a say in whether they’d host a playoff game with a win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a team they’d be facing twice in as many weeks. But the Bombers (who sewed up the Western division a long time ago) wanted to remain unbeaten at home and remind everyone that they were still THE team to beat in the Canadian Football League.
They accomplished both with a 31-21 win over the Montreal Alouettes this past Saturday. The win merely pads Winnipeg’s stats and ensures that they will have a perfect regular season record at IG Field in 2021. Their lone loss of 2021 was in Toronto and with two road games left to play, surely the Bombers will now start thinking about playing their backups to finish the season unscathed.
Montreal is still mathematically able to host a playoff game, but now they will have to win their two remaining games as well as get some help. They’ll now host these same Blue Bombers at home plus welcome the Ottawa RedBlacks to finish the regular season. But if you were to base it on Montreal’s last quarter of play versus the Bombers, I think Alouettes Nation will want to start making travel plans to Ontario if they want to cheer on their team to advance to the Grey Cup.
The Alouettes can truly say that they were able to hang with the best team in the Canadian Football League for three quarters. In fact, Montreal not only was able to answer back to Winnipeg’s attack, they even showed that they can punch them in the mouth too. The Alouettes’ defense was responsible for Montreal’s first points as Jamal Davis was able to scoop up a Brady Oliveira fumble and take it 19 yards to the house. Montreal was then able to take the lead on two occasions, only to allow the Bombers to come back and tie things up in response. The score was 21-21 going into the fourth quarter and momentum swung like a pendulum for both teams.
But in the fourth quarter it swung the Bombers’ way and stayed there, as short-yardage QB Sean McGuire waltzed in for the go-ahead touchdown and Winnipeg never looked back. Both Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros played like quarterbacks who knew their playoff status was safe, with neither looking particularly dominant. Both quarterbacks threw a pair of touchdowns and were able to complete just over half of their passes. But Harris threw a pair of interceptions that ultimately ensured that the Win would stay in Winnipeg. They say it’s not how you start, but how you finish. If that’s the case, then Bombers fans can keep breathing easy with Collaros under centre while Alouettes Nation has to wonder what to make of their “insurance policy” quarterback.
So can we now retire the narrative of “CFL team acquires QB X and goes on miracle Grey Cup run”? People are comparing the Trevor Harris acquisition to the Bombers’ landing of Zach Collaros, who helped propel the Bombers to their Grey Cup win in 2019. The problem is that Trevor Harris is nowhere near the level of Collaros in terms of quarterback play and leadership ability.
I said at the time of his acquisition that Trevor Harris is a backup QB being paid starter’s money and his overall play in 2021 has done little to change my mind. He’s looked good in spurts throughout his CFL career, but when asked to carry the load on a full-time basis, he comes up short. There’s no question that no quarterback would look good in the current dumpster fire that is the 2021 Edmonton Elks, thus Harris was being given the benefit of the doubt by many CFL “experts”.
Collaros was a MOP candidate when he went down to injury in 2015 and it took a long time for him to come back to where he is now. Harris has been the beneficiary of playing with successful quarterbacks like Ricky Ray and Henry Burris. Those two men are the reason that Harris has two Grey Cup rings. When it came time for him to prove that he could stand on his own, he wasn’t able to get over the hump.
What is also troubling is that Harris is owed a $300,000 signing bonus on February 1, 2022. While I fully expect the Alouettes to release Harris the moment that this season is over (be it on November 28th or hopefully later), there is the major concern that if Harris suffers a major injury while playing, Montreal will not be able to simply cut him at season’s end. Thus having to swallow that massive bonus and be forced to pay two quarterbacks a healthy salary.
When I say that this experiment is a massive gamble, I’m talking “push your chips to the middle of the table with a pair of jacks” kind of gamble. As far as I am concerned, Harris is more like a healthy version of Matt Nichols or Drew Willy: Good enough to convince a team that he can be the man and be paid like it, but ultimately a perennial backup in way over his head.
The comparison to Zach Collaros is misguided at best and insulting at worst.
All that said, I’m not going to totally take anything away from the good that Trevor Harris did this past Saturday. He managed to find both Reggie White Jr. and Jake Wieneke in the end zone for scores, but his overall play was wildly inconsistent. Harris held on to the ball way too often and was sacked four times, putting the Alouettes in holes that they had a hard time climbing out of.
Having already seen the Bombers twice while he was with the Elks, you would think that Harris would be a bit better prepared for what he was going to face. Especially knowing that there was the possibility of having to play this team twice when he was traded to the Alouettes. I also wonder if that thought crossed the mind of Alouettes GM Danny Maciocia as he was securing Harris’ services. After all, Harris was brought in for his CFL experience should Matthew Shiltz go down to injury. One would have hoped (especially with playoff implications on the horizon) that Maciocia would have taken into consideration the type of quarterback Harris has been the past few seasons.
Being inserted into this Alouettes offense, which is not meant for a quarterback who stays too long in the pocket, has made Harris look like a square peg in a round hole. Expecting Trevor Harris to slip in behind centre here and dominate simply hasn’t happened. And Montreal has looked very competitive versus both Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, until little miscues turned into big ones. So it’s not a matter of Harris playing at the level of the team surrounding him; this defense has been among the league’s elite and are the reason this team is going to be a playoff participant.
Quarterback play is ultimately the reason why this Alouettes team doesn’t have a better record than it does. Full stop. And now like Vernon Adams and Matt Shiltz before him, Trevor Harris has to own up and play far better than he has been for all the reasons I’ve listed in this piece of writing.
That’s all for now. The Alouettes will now welcome these same Blue Bombers to Percival Molson Stadium. If the Als want to host a playoff game at the mountain, they’re going to have to find a way to do what they did in 2019 versus these same Bombers. Some more things will have to fall in Montreal’s favour as well, but let’s start with this and see where it goes. I really have a hard time believing that the Blue Bombers will bring all of their starters to the 514, but this season has proven that nothing is impossible. It’s a Saturday afternoon game and hopefully Montreal fans will show up and support their squad.
Be sure to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself recap this recent loss and start looking forward to a hopefully long playoff run. You can find the podcast here and on your favourite podcast platforms like Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio and even on Youtube! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.
We’re on to the next one. With any luck, this past Saturday will be the last time the Montreal Alouettes lose a football game in 2021. As always, thanks for reading.