The Montreal Alouettes have never been able to make things easier for themselves these past few years. Why start now?
The faint hopes of being able to host a playoff game dissipated in the crisp mountain air this past Friday night as the Ottawa RedBlacks pulled off the upset and edged the Alouettes by a 19-18 score. The Alouettes needed this win and a Hamilton Tiger-Cats loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders to be able to host the Eastern Semi-Final. But the RedBlacks were looking for any sort of positives to end their dreadful season and got it by dashing Montreal’s hopes.
The Alouettes finish the regular season in third place at 7-7. Montreal will now hit the road and face the Tiger-Cats next Sunday, with the winner going to Toronto to face the Argonauts in the Eastern Final. For the second time in a decade, the Alouettes will head into the playoffs with a equal regular season record. That year was 2014 and while the Alouettes played a great game in the Eastern Semi-Final, Montreal’s Cinderella season ended in a loss at Tim Hortons Field to the Tabbies.
As far as this past Friday’s game goes? It was truly a tale of two halves for the Montreal Alouettes.
The first half was the type of football that Alouettes Nation should expect from this football team. A dominant defense pushing around their 2-11 opponents while the offense moved the ball down field and put points on the board. Stats were padded as William Stanback added 45 yards to his league-leading total to ensure that he would finish 2021 as the CFL’s rushing king.
Jake Wieneke caught a pair of touchdown passes to cement himself as the CFL’s best touchdown pass-catcher. Trevor Harris played arguably his best half of football wearing red and blue, completing some great passes while managing the game relatively well. Despite some post-TD miscues where an ill-advised two point convert attempt went awry and David Cote‘s PAT convert pulled to the left, Montreal looked and played like a Grey Cup playoff team.
They went into the locker room up 18-3, probably already feeling that home playoff game in their back pocket. But as the Canadian Football League prides itself upon….. *deep exhale, sigh*…….no lead is safe.
To say that the Montreal Alouettes phoned it in during the second half of this game would almost be paying them a compliment. On literally their first play, backup running back Jeshrun Antwi fumbled the ball in Ottawa territory. It was decided late in the second quarter that Stanback was to be saved for the playoffs and Antwi would be getting those rushing reps instead.
That fumble would lead to a Caleb Evans rushing touchdown. With the successful two point convert, suddenly Montreal’s lead was cut to seven. A quick two and out by the Alouettes would see Ottawa get the ball back and they would proceed to keep it for the better part of the third quarter. Montreal’s offense barely registered anything, letting the RedBlacks hang around in this pivotal game.
The fourth quarter saw both teams put together long drives but ultimately have nothing to show for it. It felt as though the Alouettes felt that they did enough already to win this game while the RedBlacks were doing just enough to not look like such a dismal team. That all changed at the three minute mark of the fourth quarter when once again, Jeshrun Antwi coughed up the ball to the Redblacks.
Caleb Evans put together a drive that would march the RedBlacks all the way downfield, eating up the clock along the way. Montreal’s defense suddenly had no answer for this Ottawa team, letting guys like Timothy Flanders literally run roughshod over them. Another Caleb Evans TD plunge and now the Ottawa RedBlacks decided to drive the final nail in the coffin by going for a two point convert that would completely erase that 15 point deficit they started the second half with.
With :11 seconds left on the clock, Evans connected with R.J. Harris for the two point convert and the lead. Just like that, the RedBlacks completed the utter humiliation of the Alouettes in front of the Montreal fans by winning their third game of the season and gift-wrapping that home playoff game for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Simply put, this game was an absolute travesty to watch if you’re an Alouettes fan.
It was obviously a smart move to rest William Stanback as this game progressed. But to not be able to score ANY points in the second half versus the Eastern division’s basement dwellers? That’s unacceptable and certainly doesn’t instill a lot of hope going into the second season.
The game was marred by so many head-scratching decisions. Antwi’s fumbles led to both Ottawa touchdowns, but the inability of Harris and the receivers to find themselves in the second half was also worrisome. The defense was pretty well gassed by the 4th quarter, having been on the field way too long. In a lot of ways, I think the Alouettes thought that next week’s game was going to be played in Hamilton no matter what transpired, so they ultimately chose not to put themselves in any potential harm’s way.
Obviously no one on the team will ever admit to such a thing, but that would be a business decision to make. It does put a damper on the end of this regular season and also makes one pause to think of how ultimately the Alouettes look as they fell ass-backwards into their playoff spot:
- lost a winnable home game to an average-looking Saskatchewan team
- lost a winnable game to Winnipeg on the road
- beat Winnipeg’s taxi squad at home
- lost to Ottawa to close out the regular season
It should also be noted that Montreal is now 1-3 with their “insurance policy” behind centre. I’m not blaming Trevor Harris outright for Montreal’s inability to close out these crucial matches, but this is really not a good look at all from this team and isn’t inspiring much confidence in general.
Yes, the Grey Cup playoffs are a different beast altogether and truly anything can happen. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won it all in 2019 by playing on the road twice (including beating the Grey Cup host Calgary Stampeders!) with a quarterback who was added late in the season.
It’s clear that the Montreal Alouettes are hoping that the same fate will happen to them, as they will face this year’s Grey Cup hosts with their own late season QB addition at the helm. Lightning COULD strike twice, but it’s hardly a game plan that is guaranteed to succeed.
Unless this is the ultimate game of possum that the Alouettes are playing with everyone, I just have a very hard time seeing Montreal turning it on all of a sudden when the games really truly matter.
That’s all for now. We know now that the road to the 108th Grey Cup will go through Ontario for the Alouettes. The Eastern Semi-Final will be played at Tim Hortons Field versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and while the Alouettes have enjoyed recent success at the Coffee Grounds, the playoffs are a whole other animal. Here’s hoping that Montreal truly has saved the best for last.
Be sure to check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast as Tim Capper and myself break down this last game at Percival Molson Stadium for 2021 and preview this upcoming game in Hamilton. You can find the podcast here, on Youtube and on any of your favourite podcast platforms! Search using the key words “Alouettes Flightdeck” just about anywhere you listen to podcasts.
The CFL’s second season is officially underway. As always, thanks for reading.