So what do you say after a game in which you commit seven turnovers – twice in the space of seven plays to open the first quarter - and all but gift a crushing win to a much-loathed opponent?
This: “We weren’t good enough.”
And this: “The guys in the locker room still believe in each other. We can’t keep hurting our football team by putting the defence on a short field. But in this locker room guys are sticking together and it’s been pretty good, pretty impressive.”
And the obvious: “We just have to wipe the slate clean, it’s a busy month for us, there’s no time to dwell.”
It’s probably a good thing that there’s no panic in the voices of Montreal Alouettes coach and GM Jim Popp, quarterback Anthony Calvillo and linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette.
No one would have blamed them if chairs and lockers were abused in the making of this football capitulation.
The Als entered their first meeting of the season against the reigning Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts with high hopes, believing they had banished the disarray that followed the abrupt firing of coach Dan Hawkins a week ago, during bye week.
“Man, we had some solid practices, we looked good out there,” receiver Brandon London said, almost wistfully.
But any hopes they had of evening their season mark at 3-3 were swiftly and expertly crushed by the Argos, who needed all of two plays to turn Noel Devine’s fumble of the opening kickoff into three points.
It would be the first of three fumbles on the night for Devine, who left in an ambulance after hurting his wrist and ankle on a flubbed kick return in the late stages of the game.
On Toronto’s second play from scrimmage, quarterback Ricky Ray threw a peach of a pass to John Chiles in the right corner of the end zone.
After Devine fumbled again two possessions later after catching a short pass from Calvillo, Ray hit Chiles deep in the left corner – Als defensive back Billy Parker had fallen on the play, which was typical enough of Montreal’s night.
Ray, who saw his first game action since hurting his left knee on July 19, stayed on the sideline in the second half, and in fairness the Argos didn’t really need him, having built up a 31-3 lead at the interval (Ray had gone a crisp 15-for-18 for 152 yards and three TDs).
“He got hit the one time and was kind of limping around,” Toronto coach Scott Milanovich [a former Als assistant] said of his quarterback. “It was a tough call, I just thought it was better to let [backup] Zach [Collaros] finish up and hopefully keep Ricky from taking another hit. If it was a closer game, I don’t know.”
There were flickers of a Montreal comeback in the third and fourth quarters – Calvillo, who finished the evening 11-for-22 for 124 yards, a TD and an interception, said he was encouraged by his team’s ability to move the ball – but by then the game was effectively over.
Jerome Messam was the other bright spot, running for 90 yards as an injury fill for regular back Brandon Whitaker.
Milanovich wasn’t thrilled with the way his team played in the second half of the game, but that’s a quibble really.
After an indifferent opening to the season, the 2012 champs, now 4-2, are finding their stride.
“I think we’re getting better, I think we’ve improved each of the last three or four weeks and are getting closer to what we’re trying to build as a team. We’re banged up but we’re heading in the right direction,” Milanovich said. “You can feel it. The way the guys interact in the locker room and how they talk after a game when game balls are being given out. The credit’s going to everybody else and not the guy who’s speaking and that’s what we believe in.
We’re becoming an unselfish team and I think we can go a long way if we keep doing that.”
Toronto’s Chad Owens, yet another of the former Als in the Argo fold, torched his one-time employers with a 109-yard touchdown return when Sean Whyte missed a 49-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.
He nearly added a second kick return TD, wriggling through the Montreal kick coverage team and returning a punt 70 yards to the end zone – only for the Argos blockers to be flagged for an infraction.
Ray was even-keeled after the win, pointing out rightly that “Nobody wins first place early in the year but you can give yourself a lot of breathing room or separation and put a lot of pressure on other teams. That’s what we want to do, get the lead and put pressure on the other teams.”
Consider the pressure applied to the Als, who look like every inch a team adrift.
The talk after the game was all about how the early turnovers – which ultimately led to 28 Toronto points – essentially made the game unwinnable.
“When we go back and watch [the game tape], we’ll see some good,” Popp philosophized after his first game on a CFL sideline since 2007.
But if the 2-4 Als have any ambitions to reach the Grey Cup game for the first time since 2010 – it’s the longest drought in more than a decade – they’ll need to find deeper answers than that.
Next week comes a date with the CFL’s best team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Then follows a date with the B.C. Lions and two more games against the Argos.
It could be a long month.