The Montreal Alouettes entered the 2011 season with eyes on a third consecutive Grey Cup victory, which would make them the greatest CFL dynasty in 30 years.
As they enter the playoffs, that goal seems so far away.
The Alouettes limp into the East Division semi-final next Sunday as losers of three str aight games, including a 43-1 obliteration at the hands of the B.C. Lions Saturday. Montreal had an opportunity to earn first place in the division for a fourth straight year, but was manhandled on both sides of the ball and put forth a performance that will go on the franchise's wall of shame.
The two-time defending champions can become the first three-time winner since the Edmonton Eskimos took five consecutive Grey Cups from 1978 to 1982, but the Alouettes haven't been this vulnerable in a decade.
"We've got to get our act together," quarterback Anthony Calvillo said Saturday in the visitors' locker room at B.C. Place Stadium. "The one thing I don't like is how we played tonight. But we're going to have to get over it. You have no choice. You have to be mentally strong and get past what just happened."
Head coach Marc Trestman called the loss the worst of his three-year tenure in Montreal, and on several occasions, Calvillo used the word "embarrassing."
Montreal plays host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Division semi-final at Olympic Stadium. The road to another Grey Cup involves a victory in that game, and one more at Winnipeg's Canad Inns Stadium.
The Blue Bombers received a gift from the Alouettes after losing 30-24 to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday. That set up a scenario where the Alouettes could have bumped the Bombers to second place with a victory in Vancouver.
But handed a third shot to win the division in the last three weeks, Montreal wasn't close. Its loss gives Winnipeg a free pass through semi-final weekend, and it gives quarterback Buck Pierce a week off to rest his sprained right knee.
"A team collapse," Alouettes guard Scott Flory said when asked to characterize the effort given the first-place stakes. "We seem to want to make life difficult on ourselves. We get a home game against Hamilton and that's our light right now, but we have to go home and think about this one really hard."
Montreal hasn't lost three straight games to close a season since 2001, when a veteran team staged a mutiny against old-school coach Rod Rust and dropped eight consecutive games after beginning the season 9-2. No such dissension is apparent this year, but the Alouettes are not without their issues.
They are playing without four starters in the secondary – safety Étienne Boulay, halfback Jerald Brown, cornerbacks Dwight Anderson and Mark Estelle. Left tackle Josh Bourke, Calvillo's blind-side protector, is also missing and that was evident as the Lions harassed football's career leading passer, sacking him four times and holding him to 63 yards passing.
Of the injured quintet, only Brown has a chance to return before the 99th Grey Cup game on Nov. 27.
Running back Brandon Whitaker and slotback S.J. Green also suffered injuries against the Lions, although both returned to the game. The Alouettes produced just eight first downs and 146 yards of net offence, while allowing the Lions to romp for 477 yards and four passing touchdowns.
The game was over by halftime with the Lions holding a 24-1 lead, and B.C. scored 43 unanswered points after surrendering a punt single on Montreal's opening possession.