The evidence is circumstantial, but also unambiguous.
A locker door slammed, a nameplate ripped off in anger, and, most of all, the silence and sour expressions, which suggest pointed words have recently been exchanged.
Then the 40-year-old quarterback, a congenitally well-mannered guy, spits out a curse word in public, into a thicket of television microphones no less.
There is no joy in Alouette-ville.
Why would there be?
The regulation CFL football is still oblong, 11 inches long and around 28 inches in circumference, it is still made out of pebbled leather – but that didn’t stop the Als from treating it like a strange, alien object in their tilt against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thanksgiving Monday.
They fumbled it (four times, losing three), they threw it to the opposition (twice), they dropped it in the red zone while wide open (at least twice).
As receiver Brandon London noted ruefully afterward, “It’s not hard mathematics … that equation gets you beat.”
And so the Alouettes did – first place in the East shown up at home by last place, a 27-22 victory that represented the Winnipeggers’ first road victory of the year in interim coach Tim Burke’s first game in charge against his former club.
The Als are now 8-6, the Bombers 4-10, but that’s not how it looks from the Montreal camp.
“This feeling that we have in this locker room right now, is we’re in last place. We have to get our act together, it definitely starts with myself,” said quarterback Anthony Calvillo, whose second interception in the final minute scuttled any hopes of a comeback. “We’ve shown greatness [this season], and we’ve shown [poor] play. Today was [poor] play.”
Not exactly an award-winning profanity-laced tirade, but coming from Calvillo, it qualifies as striking.
Head coach Marc Trestman is usually a master of deft evasion in his post-game interviews, but there was nothing but bluntness this day.
“As I told the guys, this was an unacceptable performance on all levels for our football team,” he said.
What spoke loudest, however, was receiver Jamel Richardson’s post-game reaction – he hammered the seat of his locker down, moments later he tore down his nameplate, and stormed out of the room wearing red headphones and a look that said ‘Don’t talk to me.’
“I don’t blame him, we’re all upset,” Trestman said.
Richardson, it has to be pointed out, made a key drop inside the Winnipeg five-yard line to snuff out a drive in the first quarter (the Als would later commit two red-zone turnovers).
The man who led the CFL in receiving by more than 500 yards over his nearest competitor last season only caught three passes on the day.
London, who caught 9 for 170 yards and a touchdown, also tipped an end-zone toss into the hands of Bombers cornerback Johnny Sears in the second quarter, killing a drive.
“I feel sick about that,” he said.
All in all, the team seems as angry as it’s ever been during Trestman’s five seasons in charge..
Perhaps he most frustrating part for the Alouettes – who have been blown out of meaningful games in Vancouver and Hamilton in the last three weeks – is that they’re doing all the things the manual says you have to do to turn it around.
“The focus is good, it’s there all week, our practices are sharp, intense … but I guess that doesn’t guarantee anything on game day,” said centre Luc Brodeur-Jourdain.
The attention to detail, they say, is the same, as is the preparation.
And yet, the Als do things like fumble kickoffs and take two unnecessary roughness penalties for hitting opponents out of bounds.
For all the struggles, the bravado endures.
Asked if he plays on a championship-calibre team, London was unequivocal: “Most definitely.”
“We have the best quarterback in CFL history, we’ll be okay,” he said.
And he had a message for the haters: “Don’t come to the parade when we have it in Quebec.”
Next week’s game in Toronto, with first place and home advantage in the Eastern Final on the line, has taken on a new importance.
For the Alouettes to win will require some urgent course corrections – they have now dropped three of four, including blow-outs at the hands of B.C. and Hamilton.
Brodeur-Jourdain said the process has already started, and that it will require an honest and critical appraisal of the game just ended – which he allowed began with the locker room doors closed on Monday afternoon.
“We just admitted a few home truths . . . we’re going to need to find some more character and leadership between now and the end of the season,” he said. “That’s two extremely disappointing performances in a row now, we have to find a way to shake off this torpor. We need to have a meeting, do whatever it takes to elevate our game.”
One of the things they’ll have to do is put a better rush on the opposing quarterback.
Winnipeg’s Joey Elliott is no one’s idea of a world-beater, but he used roll-outs and play-action to damaging effect, rolling up 335 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Elliott was merciless in picking on veteran Als corner Dwight Anderson, who was torched on several long passing plays and at least two scores – with the game tied 10-10 in the early going, the Winnipeg pivot hit rookie receiver Chris Matthews on back-to-back long gains (42 and 36 yards) to put the Bombers up for good.
Anderson was beaten badly on both plays.
It’s hard to play pass defence in the CFL at the best of times, it’s nearly impossible when your defensive line manages minimal pressure – and where the only two sacks come from a rookie interior lineman, Alan-Michael Cash, rather than your high-profile rush ends.
“I think we only had the ball for 27 minutes today, I’m not sure that’s accurate, but it was less than 30. If we hadn’t turned the ball over, we would have had the ball more than 30 maybe 35, and could have minimized some of those situations,” Trestman said. “We were very productive . . . what really stopped us today, with all respect to Winnipeg, was us.”
At least the Als’ shaky special teams held up – although the return team did manage to fumble the ball twice on the same sequence in the first half – they’ll have to hope that return man Trent Guy has recovered from a concussion that kept him out of the second half.
Trestman correctly pointed out that “the world hasn’t come to an end”, but with four games to play it will seem that way if they lose to the Argos next weekend.
“We’ve got to get our minds right and our emotions right to play a very important game next week,” he said.
THE ROAD TO THE PLAYOFFS
Saturday:Saskatchewan faces the fourth-place Edmonton Eskimos (6-8) in an important West Division matchup.
Sunday:Toronto plays host to Montreal (8-6), which lost 27-22 to Winnipeg on Monday. Not only will the winner assume first place in the East, but also win the season series 2-1, which is important because in the event of a tie, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head record ~ The Canadian Press