Some boats just don’t sink.
That said, the natural buoyancy of the vessel known as the Montreal Alouettes has been severely tested this season, which until recently was shaping to be the team’s worst in a couple of decades.
Implausibly, the Als go into their Thanksgiving Day home clash with the bottom-feeding Winnipeg Blue Bombers on a bit of a win streak and in decent shape for the CFL postseason.
An Als victory coupled with an Edmonton loss would lock up a spot that for all intents and purposes is already theirs (even in the best-case scenario, the Eskimos must win all their remaining games and hope the Als lose all of theirs).
If everything breaks in its favour, Montreal might even have a shot at playing host to an East Division playoff game.
True, the 6-8 Montrealers can thank their lucky amulets they play in an eight-team league where six make the playoffs, but there’s a sense this is more than just a one-eyed-man-in-the-land-of-the-blind kind of deal.
They’re not the juggernaut of yore, but wins over the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Edmonton have the team feeling good – “We’re hitting a groove, and there’s such energy,” veteran linebacker Shea Emry said – and, yes, even optimistic.
“The whole season we’ve thought to ourselves, ‘We have such a good team.’ We’ve got lots of great talent, and we’ve been there … it just took a couple of times getting beat down to get back up,” Emry said.
Since head coach Dan Hawkins was jettisoned after Week 5, the Als have racked up a seemingly pedestrian 4-5 record.
Looking more closely, three of the losses were by seven points or fewer, and two of the wins have come in as many weeks as the proverbial light bulb has clicked on above young quarterback Josh Neiswander’s head.
When starter Anthony Calvillo was lost to a concussion in August, Neiswander came on in relief and was terrible, tossing up five interceptions in 56 passing attempts and just two touchdowns.
He lost his job to rookie Tanner Marsh, who won a pair of games but contrived to throw eight interceptions in four starts, and also got hurt.
Neiswander has started three games in a row – a narrow two-point loss and two wins – producing seven touchdowns against just one pick.
Limiting turnovers can help your team win, imagine that.
The Texan is clearly growing into his role: “It’s one thing to watch film and study … it’s another thing to execute an offence, live, in a game. As a quarterback, the more game experience you get, the higher your comfort level.”
Part of that has to do with tweaking the game plan to his strengths, and by keeping defences guessing with the running game.
“You can tell he’s more comfortable in the pocket,” head coach and general manager Jim Popp said.
Now, comes a date with the 2-12 Blue Bombers, who in theory should be an easy out, although that’s not the mindset in the Als camp.
“We’ve got to look at it like they’re the best team in the league … and we have to take care of our business so we have another chance next week to continue staying in the race to get a home playoff game,” Popp said.
The Als never-ending injury parade has also ebbed, players such as Marsh and defensive back Byron Parker are poised to return to the lineup. Calvillo, who was placed on the nine-game injured list earlier this season, is also making progress and could even start light practices next week.
So the raft remains afloat, even if – to pursue the metaphor far beyond where it’s advisable – there are choppy waters ahead in the form of back-to-back games against the second-place team in the East, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.