Strangely, after the best game the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have played this year – and that’s not overly-high praise – they did their worst thing.
They blew a game. And that may tell us as much as, or maybe more than, the first three losses of the season did. When the chance was there they could not maintain their grip. One by one, their fingers were pried off this victory. Quickly.
If the loss of one Ticat defensive player can permit the Edmonton Eskimos, undefeated as they are, to score 18 points in the final quarter (you are not reading that wrong) to rally for a 31-28 victory in the Tiger-Cats’ own lair, then this team is not good enough.
Or this team doesn’t have enough self-confidence, or this team is not prepared well enough for game-turning situations.
Or this team is all of the above, and more.
Cornerback Keon Lyn was carried off the field as the third quarter ended Thursday night and Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, who spent more than half the night picking artificial turf out of his teeth, first smelled blood, then acted like a shark.
Kent Austin conceded after the game that the Ticats had talked on the sidelines about what was going to happen, that Reilly would attack the area which Lyn’s injury had obligated halfback Justin Rogers to patrol and team newcomer Terrence Frederick to fill in for Rogers at halfback. That’s exactly what transpired, and yet the Tiger-Cats defence looked as if this were a surprise and was powerless to stop it.
The Cats did all sorts of things well in this game, including making some big plays in all three phases, but in the final quarter, when everyone’s tired and reverting to some kind of mean, the same stuff that made them 0-3 re-appeared to make them 0-4 and heading for 0-and-6 after a pair of road games in Alberta where they rarely win one, and virtually never win two.
To wit: a key injury; an opposition quarterback adjusting to get rid of the ball more quickly to receivers who aren’t covered anywhere near tightly enough under those circumstances; penalties of the worst types at the worst times; a second-and-ridiculously-long being converted against the defence and a second-and-four on offence coming up three yards short when a first down, or close to it, would have virtually clinched the game; Zach Collaros throwing an interception into full coverage.
This one, at least in the bad timing part of it, is mostly on the defence, which had got great work from its middle front in Ted Laurent and Davon Coleman but couldn’t pick up the offence after Collaros was intercepted to kill a promising, rhythmic drive early in the fourth quarter, and you could just feel where this was headed. Some parts of the crowd must have felt it with 77 seconds left and Edmonton, down five points and still on their own 35. Psychics all, they headed for the exits, to beat the traffic that wasn’t there.
The defence was guilty of non-pickup on that final drive too, because that was immediately after the offence had to settle for a Sergio Castillo field goal (he’s been very, very good) instead of getting that rushing first down that would have digested clock time and the Eskimos’ hearts.
But that’s the difference between an 0-3 club and a 3-0 club: One team picks up after each other, the other team allows a mistake to multiply like an amoeba.
Let’s not forget, though, that despite controlling the ball for about half the game and showing lots of pace and some deep pass attempts to stretch the field, the offence still came out of this with only 19 points and just one touchdown, to its credit, The rest came via a blocked punt major (Terrell Davis blocking, Geoff Hughes scoring) and a safety. That’s not enough, especially when they came out of the gates strongly for the second game in a row.
As John Chick was saying after the game, the team looked a whole bunch better and there are still 14 games left.
Seven of those are at home but consider this: the Ticats have lost exactly that many in a row in Hamilton, three of those to the Eskimos, including last year’s semifinals.
Tim Hortons Field, which started its life as the Walled City to visitors is now The Open Door. What we’re witnessing here is Visiting Field Advantage.
The Ticats’ last home win was Sept. 16, 2016, more than eight months ago. No wonder many fans left early, even with their team ahead.
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