Pro football requires a baseline level of proficiency, so even when you’re playing a team that’s 2-12, there are certain things you will not get away with, ever.
Like turning the ball over on your first three possessions, and contriving to drop it, boot it, and otherwise give it away seven times in all.
And so here are the Montreal Alouettes, left to rue a missed opportunity – another one – that has dashed whatever meagre hopes they had of winning the East Division, and jeopardized their chance at hosting a playoff game. They sit 6-9, and must win both ends of their home-and-home with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for a realistic shot at a home gate in the East semi-final.
For the first time since the Alouettes were reborn in 1996, they will also end the season with a losing record at home. Two of the Bombers’ three wins have come at Percival Molson Stadium, and given Montreal’s first win of the season came at Invesco Field, perhaps the teams should contemplate swapping cities. That the team is appreciably better on the road than before its home fans, a vexing problem for the Montreal coaches, but not as pressing as winning when they should.
“We’ve had chances this season to be tied for first. We didn’t win that game. We had chances to be tied for second, we didn’t win that game. Here we had a chance to clinch a playoff spot and continue in the search of even first in our division, we didn’t get it done, all on our home field,” general manager and coach Jim Popp said. “We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and go ‘why’ and improve.”
The odds against the Blue Bombers (3-12) winning their three remaining games are prohibitive (the Edmonton Eskimos’ loss on Sunday eliminated any cross-over possibility for them).
“So you’re telling me there’s a chance right? We just have to keep playing, all we can control is winning next week,” said Winnipeg quarterback Max Hall, who chalked up his first win as the team’s starter.
For a while it looked like the Alouettes might survive their incompetence – quarterback Josh Neiswander’s first throw of the drizzly afternoon bounced off Arland Bruce’s hands and was picked off by Desia Dunn at the Als’ 27, but the Bombers only scored a field goal.
Alouettes kicker Sean Whyte bungled a perfect snap on a punt attempt at his own 30 yard line; on the next play, Bomber pivot Max Hall hit running back Will Ford in the flat, he scampered 17 yards for the touchdown. At that point the Als were down 10-0, the Bombers had 28 total yards.
Despite briefly taking the lead before half-time and momentarily regaining it in the third quarter, the Alouettes simply didn’t play intelligently enough to beat the worst team in the CFL, and they weren’t even lucky. The Als had a pair of interceptions voided by penalty flags, and Whyte missed a 33-yard chip shot in the fourth quarter that would have narrowed the gap to two points.
Ill fortune, however, doesn’t explain Winnipeg’s back-breaking touchdown in the fourth quarter, on a 68-yard dash from Ford, who rumbled in from the one-yard line two plays later.
What’s inexcusable from the Als’ perspective is the Bombers ran exactly the same running play off left tackle twice in quick succession – the first time an arm tackle stopped Ford, who finished with 103 all-purpose yards, from busting loose.
“We saw something there and we said if we get the same look we’re just going to run it again, we’re going to fix the blocking and do it right, to their credit they did and Will found the gap,” said Hall, who finished the day 16-for-27 for 223 yards, two touchdowns, a fumble and no interceptions. “That long run [Ford] had won the game for us, bottom line.”