After a rough start — the Ticats conceded a single on the opening kickoff, bogged down in the red zone again on their first drive and allowed Winnipeg to march down the field and score a touchdown on their opening drive — the Ticats gave notice to the league that they are still one of the elite teams in the CFL, scoring the next 35 points en route to a 52-26 thrashing of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.
It was one of the most dominating performances the Ticats have had in some time, and one of the most impressive road wins for this team ever. They were clicking on all cylinders, scoring touchdowns on defense and special teams for the second week in a row, but also finding the end zone on offense for the first time this season. It was a complete performance where the Ticats excelled in all three phases of the game.
All the talk going into the season was how Zach Collaros was going to be more comfortable in Tommy Condell’s offense this year, and boy does it look like he is after another superlative performance from No. 4 against Winnipeg. He finished 26 of 33 for 354 yards and two touchdown passes. He was cool, calm and collected on almost every throw, and was near perfect in his reads and execution. His 74.6 per cent complete rate incredible and he is clicking with his every one of his receivers. It was a masterful performance, the first of many Collaros will have this season, as the second-year starter looks almost unstoppable.
Speaking of unstoppable, it is become really hard to find new things to say about Brandon Banks each week. Another game, another punt return touchdown. That makes it two in two weeks and it doesn’t look like the scores are going to stop any time soon. It is almost unbelievable to think of what Banks has done over his last half dozen games, scoring five return TDs since a week 19 matchup with the Redblacks in Ottawa. At some points teams are going to have to figure out a way to keep the ball away from him, but until then, expect more of the same.
Sticking with the offense for a second, while Collaros is getting his due praise, the play of Bakari Grant and Andy Fantuz cannot go unrecognized. Fantuz is catching everything thrown his way and is becoming th type of security blanket for his quarterback that he has been for most of his career. He has 17 catches over the first two games, and Matt Dunigan said on last night’s telecast that he thinks Fantuz can make a run at Derrell “Mookie” Mitchell’s CFL record for catches, which stands at 160. While that seems like a long shot, it should tell you just how well No. 83 is playing right now.
Also playing out of his mind is Bakari Grant. Grant signed a one-year deal with the Ticats this offseason, but made it clear that he was going to play with a giant chip on his shoulder and the show the team, and the league, that he can be a dominant player. Aside from a fumble early, Grant was a monster, recording a game-high 117 yards on five catches, one of which was a 35-yard touchdown pass from Collaros in the second quarter. Grant is a player that fans love and he is another Ticat who could be in for a big year in 2015.
How about that defense, eh? The secondary was at their ballhawking finest, forcing the Winnipeg quarterbacks into three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, while generally shutting down the Winnipeg passing attack. Drew Willy and Brian Brohm threw for under 200 yards combined, at that was despite the fact that the Bombers were down big early and needed to play catch up. Orlondo Steinauer dialled up the pressure all night, sacking the Winnipeg quarterbacks twice and just generally making life miserable for Willy and Brohm. They were also at their run-stuffing best, holding a Bomber rushing attack that went off for 145 yards against Saskatchewan to just 69 yards on the ground. Paris Cotton was a non-factor for most of the night, picking up just 46 yards, though he saw his touches decrease as the game got out of hand. It was a masterful performance by the defense, and it sure looks like the unit is poised to be one of the league’s best again this season.
Not much bad can be found in a 26-point victory, but no team plays a perfect game, so there are some things the Ticats can improve on going forward. Penalties were once again an issue. The Ticats were penalized 16 times for 160 yards, this after last week’s 15 for 105, and a couple flags were negated a pair of big plays. A Hasan Hazime sack was rendered pointless after a roughing-the-kicker call on Johnny Sears, Jr. occurred on the following play, while a Simoni Lawrence sack was wiped out after Ted Laurent was called offside after lining up in the neutral zone. While these plays obviously did not hurt the Ticats much, in the future such mistakes could be costly.
Despite leading by a comfortable margin most of the game, the Ticats still failed to really try to establish any sort of run game. Ray Holley was once again ineffectual as the team’s lead back, picking up just 16 yards on six carries in the game. Michael Ford ran with purpose, rushing six times for 35 yards, but it was late in the game with the final score no longer in doubt. The Ticats could only muster 62 yards on the ground against a Winnipeg team that gave up 212 last week against Sasktchewan. While the team did not need the running game to win, they will at some point and the first two weeks do not provide positive data that the team will be able to get it done on the ground when it matters most.
Seeing Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy lay motionless on the turf after an unfortunate helmet-to-helmet hit was uncomfortable to watch. The hit by Adrian Tracy and Taylor Reed was in no way intentional — Reed was swinging Willy down and Tracy was coming low and made contact with Willy’s helmet — but that does not make it any less devastating. Willy was able to get up, but he left the game and did not return. It is just another blow to the league’s starting quarterbacks, with Willy joining Darian Durant, Mike Reilly, Jonathan Crompton and Dan LeFevour as quarterbacks on the injured list. It is never good for a star player to go down; it is bad for the team he plays for, but also the league as a whole. The CFL is better when its best players are on the field, and unfortunately the infirmary has been filling up quickly just five games into the 2015 season.
While the Willy injury cast a pall over the game, it was still a dominate performance by the Ticats. They now head into their bye confident after evening their record at 1-1. It will be a much nicer week off following a win than it would have been following a loss.
But no one should be surprised that the Ticats exited Investors Group Field with a win, because they have yet to lose at Winnipeg’s new stadium, posting an impressive 4-0 record in the Manitoba capital since the new place opened in 2013. The Ticats are hoping their next trip to Winnipeg will occur at the end of November and be just as fruitful.
The Ticats now sit home for Week 3 before heading to Montreal take on an Als team that is down to their third-string quarterback following their own quarterback injuries in Week 1. Hamilton has won just once in Montreal since 2002 — a thrilling 52-44 overtime win in the 2011 East Semi-Final — but with the Als reeling, Week 4 is the perfect time for the Ticats to snap their long, regular season losing streak in Montreal.