Frederic Daigle, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — In the midst of the playoffs in the Eastern Division of the Canadian Football League, the Montreal Alouettes offered a performance on Friday night against the Ottawa Rouge et Noir, which is cause for concern.
All week, players and coaches of the Alouettes (4-7) repeated how important this game was in order to break away from the Rouge et Noir (3-8), to avoid bringing another team into this race .
Instead of coming out strong and warding off this potential rival, Danny Maciocia’s squad came out flat and were down 38-24 at home. A performance that is not likely to attract more spectators at the Percival-Molson stadium next week, they who were only 15,303 Friday evening.
“Physically and mentally, we weren’t ready for some reason,” head coach Maciocia said after the game. It’s not for lack of training; we even added a day of training after the break, in order to chase the rust from the leave before facing an opponent within our section. It was an important match at this point, in our eyes.
Whose blame is it for this completely amorphous exit from the premises?
“We are all responsible for this. Everyone has a role in this poor performance,” said Maciocia.
The Alouettes took a 10-3 lead in the second quarter, but a series of turnovers completely turned the tide. Quarterback Trevor Harris alone was responsible for three of his team’s four turnovers, with a fumble — recovered for a touchdown — and two interceptions.
“There was a touchdown that the offense conceded and we had an interception with a short pitch that led to a field goal. It’s 10 points right there,” noted Maciocia, who however blamed his entire lineup.
“We have a game where we had the opportunity to get an interception that we missed. Defensively, in general, we play well. Did we play well today (Friday)? No. But there are 10 of the 38 points awarded that go on offense. It is better to tackle, on the other hand, and to go to the quarterback. (…) We have the staff, but we have work to do.”
It’s a refrain we’ve been hearing since the beginning of the season: that all the elements are in place, but it’s enough to execute the plays. Do the Alouettes really have what it takes?
“I would like to think that we are much better than what we showed (Friday) evening. But the only way to do that is to play at your level, said the head coach, who looked grim. (Friday), we did not play at our level.
“It’s a process that is evolving, for his part tried to explain Harris. On the Gray Cup winning teams I’ve played for, we’ve always had mid-season trouble, around Labor Day, and started to be on top towards the end of the season. Sounds like an apology and saying it’s gonna be okay. That’s not what I mean at all. We have to be better and it starts with me. I have to take better care of the ball. Turnovers make the difference in football: we have committed four against none. We’re lucky we were only a touchdown late into the second half considering how many times we gave the ball away.”
But the quarterback remains convinced that this offense can produce at a higher level, which remains to be consistently demonstrated.
Too many distractions?
If the Alouettes did not take this game against the Rouge et Noir for granted, one of the avenues to explore is whether the club’s eventful week away from the field has disturbed its preparation.
The team had to deal with the arrest of centre-back Christophe Normand after the break for luring someone under the age of 16; the departure of minority shareholder Gary Stern from the team’s entourage, which had the effect of bringing back questions about a new sale of the team; then the Alouettes traded quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. to the Lions and defensive lineman Avery Ellis to the Elks.
“If that’s it, it disappoints me a lot too, replied Maciocia. You have to play with all this adversity. We knew there was a lot going on around the team this week. We prepared by telling ourselves that we were going to focus on the things that we can control, that it was no use continuing to talk about them. The reality is that we didn’t do that. We did not manage it as a team capable of managing what we can control. And we paid for (Friday) night. I hope that’s a lesson everyone learned. We will see what kind of team will show up for training on Tuesday.
Words that found echoes among the players interviewed after the meeting. But with the microphone off, some have suggested that it may have shaken up part of the workforce, if only because Normand, Adams and Ellis all had friends in this locker room.
The perfect storm to explain this setback? In the end, the result is that the Alouettes have erased the very thin margin of maneuver that the team had built up in the weak East section with its victories in Winnipeg and against Edmonton.