Milton: Ticats’ Banks needs to be better – and he knows it

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If they have to lose, all professional athletes would rather be beaten by other pros than be beaten by themselves.

Ergo, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats mostly tip their helmets to the B.C. Lions for the 40-13 thrashing they administered to their left coast visitors Friday — “They were a lot tougher than us all night,” says defensive end Justin Hickman — but they also exercised their option to point out their own contributions to the lopsided result.

Head coach Kent Austin emphasized Monday that responsibility for defeat, as in victory, usually is distributed across all three phases of the game and he sure wasn’t wrong in this case. The offence couldn’t score, the defence didn’t make its quota of big stops and the special teams … well, Brandon Banks, take it from here.

“I have to know situational football,” the Ticats’ primo returner offered freely of the critical mental mistake he made very early Friday night, in the game’s second series, when he tried to run back a B.C. punt which he should have let perish for a single point.

Instead, Hamilton’s offence, which had struck hard and fast just a few plays earlier, started on its own two-yard line, was forced to concede a safety, then watched as the Lions quickly converted the ensuing kickoff into another seven points with a 67-yard return followed by Jonathon Jennings’ 20-yard touchdown pass to Shawn Gore. The net math for the Ticats was minus-eight points.

Field position, lead, momentum. All gone. Within a minute and a half.

Austin said that Banks’ decision-making on a couple of return options “has been addressed” and the diminutive dynamo confirmed that he and the coach had talked about taking the larger view.

“With field position, I have to be a lot smarter about the situation in the ball game,” Banks said. “The first one, I definitely should have let go in.

“It put us in bad field position and it seems like we were there for the whole first half, on our side of the field. So it was definitely a learning situation for me: I always have room to improve and get better.”

Banks already has four punt returns for touchdowns this year, some of them when he originally appeared surrounded by barbed wire. So, successful escapes are rarely far from the front of his mind. But game situation has to be even closer to the front, especially on a night when the Cats’ offence would prove uncharacteristically vulnerable to the shadow of its own goalposts.

“We’ve been pretty good at that offensively for the most part, moving the ball when we’re backed up,” Austin said. “Even if we don’t score points, we’ve been able to flip the field … many times. We weren’t able to do that in this game, and it put us in a bind.”

Austin said the graphic ugliness of the scoreboard numbers doesn’t necessarily provide him with a bunch of better listeners to coach this week. This group has regularly proven it responds to direction, Friday night’s results notwithstanding.

“We tend to focus on the things we believe in and that the messaging stays consistent because when it doesn’t, you’re at risk of it not being authentic and players want authenticity,” he said Monday. “That doesn’t mean we don’t address on an individual basis, issues with individual players. We do that quite often.”

Given the overall deflation, a lot of Ticats would have been submitted to some individual addressing after that game. Banks was only one and Austin, as is his practice, wouldn’t get into the specifics.

“I’m considering myself a playmaker,” Banks said. Every time I touch the ball I’m trying to make something happen. I don’t get many opportunities in a game, so every opportunity, I try to take advantage of and that’s what I was trying to do that time. It was a mistake.

“It won’t happen again.”

NOTES: Kent Austin said the team is waiting for three or four MRI results to determine how much injury damage the team suffered. One was on Ryan Bomben’s broken wrist to determine if he’s out for the year or could be back for the Grey Cup if the Ticats qualify … Henry Burris took the Ticats to the Grey Cup game two years ago, now he can help cost the Ticats a home playoff date with victories by the Redblacks here Sunday and in Ottawa a week from Saturday … Sunday’s game will complete the first season in Hamilton since 1973 in which the Ticats have sold out every game. The Cats are the only CFL team to sell out every game this season, averaging 24,164 to a field with an official capacity of 23,500 … As part of #Ticats SayThanks all fans Sunday will receive mini footballs and thundersticks and Tim Hortons coffee and hot chocolate will go for $1.25 in the south plaza.