Mistakes cost Ticats winnable game against the Redblacks

_DSC550412 points.

That is all the Hamilton Tiger-Cats allowed against an Ottawa team that came into the game with the league’s top offense. Nine of those 12 points came in the first quarter. You hold a team to 12 points, and three over the game’s final 45 minutes, and you should easily win the game.

Six points.

That is all the Hamilton Tiger-Cats could muster in 60 minutes of football. Six measly points. Simply put, that is not good enough. Especially when you consider that the Ticats had chances to, at worst, tie the game, with two drives ending deep in Ottawa territory due to interceptions thrown by Jeff Mathews.

Mathews, frankly, was terrible on Sunday. He finished 20 of 35 for 160 yards and those two demoralizing interceptions. Mathews was given some leeway when it came to turning the ball over. He is, after all, a rookie and rookies tend to make mistakes. He seemed to have cured himself of his turnover problem, but it has now reared its ugly head two weeks in a row. Last week, he tossed two picks against the Lions, so a bounce back game was what many hoped for against the Redblacks. It didn’t happen. Mathews tossed two terrible red zone interceptions that killed two Hamilton drives that could have, and should have, ended in points of some kind. He also had a number of overthrows which could have changed the outcome, and those mistakes were compounded by the aforementioned interceptions. It was probably Mathews’ worst game outside his relief appearance against the Edmonton Eskimos, and it now puts a question mark on the most important position at the most intense time of the season.

The Ticats knew they needed to try some things if they wanted to run the ball against the league’s No. 1 rush defense, and try things they did. They opted for a little trickery in the running game, which did yield some positive results. C.J. Gable didn’t see much work, just seven carries, but both Brandon Banks and Terrell Sinkfield had success running the football in limited doses. Banks had just two carries, but picked up 24 yards, while Sinkfield had four carries for 37 yards. While they still need to find a much more traditional running game — one that hopefully features major contributions from Gable — considering how badly this game went, you have to find the silver linings somewhere.

Speaking of Speedy B, he was a much bigger part of the offense, as he picked up 49 receiving yards on six catches. Banks has been used sparingly on offense, but it is nice to see him mixed in every now and then to at least put a scare into the opposing defense. Aside from Banks, not much else of note came from the receiving corps. With Mathews playing so poorly, it trickled down into a rather ho-hum game from the team’s pass catchers.

The offensive line followed up last week’s bad performance with a similarly bad one this week in giving up six sacks, though placing the blame entirely on them is unfair. On more than a couple of the sacks, Mathews simply held onto the ball too long and allowed Ottawa’s rushers to bring him down. He needed to throw the ball away or make much quicker decisions. And it really looks like the loss of Ryan Bomben is going to hurt. We all knew it would, but it was especially evident on Sunday. The offensive line is really going to have to pick it up if the Ticats have any hope of salvaging the second half of this two-game series.

It is hard to come down too hard on the defensive unit when they only gave up four field goals, so I won’t try and nitpick too much, but there were plays to be made that could have turned the game. Cleshawn Page’s dropped interception in the first half could have gone all the way for a touchdown. There was one Redblack standing between Page and the end zone, but so too was another Ticats defender (Brandon Stewart, I believe) who could have made the one block Page would have needed to take it to the house. If Page catches that and scores, we might be talking about a Ticats win instead of a Ticats loss.

Another thing I noticed was how Hamilton seemed to switch from zone to man and back again depending on the wind conditions. Hamilton seemed to play much more man coverage when they had the wind at their backs, whereas they played more zone when the wind was in their face. They had much more success playing man. But again, they allowed 12 points, so any criticisms of their play is just being petty.

I guess I need to touch on the Simoni Lawrence hit on Henry Burris. The one that Burris called “worse than using PEDs” during a halftime interview with TSN. The hit was fine. Burris had broken the pocket, therefore making him a runner and a runner does not have the same protection as a quarterback. Lawrence made contact with the thigh/hip area of Burris, not the knee. Burris’ objections to the hit, and the firestorm that ensued, stemmed from the fact that he entered the game with a knee injury suffered a week ago on a low hit by Winnipeg’s Jamaal Westerman. To say that the hit was worse that using steroids or other performance enhancers in just Burris being hyperbolic. Burris is a quarterback. Quarterbacks do not like getting hit. It is as simple as that. There was no malicious intent and, more importantly no flag thrown. It was a perfectly acceptable, and completely clean, hit.

So here is where everything stands heading into the final game of the regular season. The Ticats can finish no worse than second, so a playoff game is coming to Hamilton, be it in the East Division Semi-Final or the East Division Final. If the Ticats want to host the latter, they need to not just beat the Redblacks next week, but do so by six or more points. If the Ticats win by six, they take the division, get the bye and await the winner of Ottawa and Toronto; if they win by five or fewer or lose, they finish second and Chapter 4 in the 2015 version of the Battle of Ontario will be set for the East Semi.

It is hard to think the Ticats will win in hostile territory if they play the way they did Sunday, but if they can execute just a bit better than they did in game 1 of the two-game, total-point series, and actually find the end zone instead of committing turnovers and settling for field goals, the Ticats may just host the East Final once again.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.