The good and bad of Hamilton’s tough loss to the Redblacks

They never make it easy, do they?

In what was a mostly entertaining game, the Ticats fell just short to the Ottawa Redblacks 30-29 and now have the more difficult path to first in the division, and the bye into the East Final that comes with it, thanks to this loss to the defending division champions.

Hamilton had a number of opportunities to win this game and take first place for themselves, but they didn’t and now their chances of finishing first have significantly diminished.

Bad: So about that fumble

It needs to be pointed out that the Ticats didn’t lose solely because of a blown review call late in the game, but it sure didn’t help. And compounding that is the fact that the league has come out and admitted that the review official got the call wrong. That is of little solace to the coaches, players and fans of the Tiger-Cats who saw their team lose a game partially because a replay official did not do his job properly, but it furthers the case that the CFL replay system is horribly flawed and needs a massive overhaul in the offseason.

I still believe that replay has a place in pro sports, but when they still get calls wrong, you start to wonder what the point of having it even is. Instant replay was instituted to get the calls right, but it has been clear this year that the league does not always get them right — see the missed fumble call in last week’s B.C.-Winnipeg game — and if the wrong call is still going to be made, I would prefer that we just let the refs make the call. I know we can never go back to that, but it is frustrating to watch as a system that was put in place to correct obvious errors fails to do so week after week. This may sound like throwing the baby out with the bath water, but either fix the damn system or turf it completely. The CFL will have a whole offseason to figure this out and hopefully we come back next year with a much better system than the one we have in place right now.

Good/Bad: The gift and curse of Jeremiah Masoli

Like I said, the reason the Ticats lost the game wasn’t entirely because of a horribly botched replay decision. Their play on the field was frustrating to watch. Nowhere was that better exemplified than with the play of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. It is common knowledge that Masoli is a QB that runs hot and cold. When he is on, he looks like a world beater, but when he is off he looks as bad as any QB in any level of football. Friday night saw both versions of Masoli on display.

The bad was the two interceptions, with the worst coming on an incredibly dumb decision to throw across his body while running away from pressure. He needs to just throw that ball away and have the team punt. Instead he tries to make a play and turns the ball over. The Redblacks took over near midfield and drove deep into Hamilton’s end before John Chick stripped Henry Burris of the football inside Hamilton’s red zone. Nothing too bad came off the pick, but that Ottawa drive starts a lot deeper if a punt ends the possession as opposed to an interception.

But later in the game a similar play occurred with Masoli scrambling the other way and once again throwing across his body, this time jumping in the process, to hit John Chiles for a 23-yard completion on second-and-nine. The very next play C.J. Gable took it to the house to give the Ticats their first lead of the game and erase what had been a 13-point Redblacks lead.

Masoli finished the game 25-of-32 for 278 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions and three carries for 22 yards. If he simply did not turn the ball over, we are probably talking about a Ticats win and how great he played. But that is what you get with Masoli, the sublime mixed with the frustrating. He was equal parts of both on Friday night.

Good: Run, Carl, Run

Admit it, when you saw the Ticats run four times on their opening drive, that was capped with a beautiful touchdown pass from Jeremiah Masoli to Terrence Toliver, you were confused. It is okay to admit, because I was, too. But boy was it ever nice to see the Ticats attempt to establish the run, and actually do it effectively. C.J. Gable saw the ball 13 times in the game, 11 of which came via the run. He picked up 66 yards on those 11 carries and ran with poise and purpose every time he had the ball.

He also scored just his second touchdown of the season, and his first since all the way back in Week 4 against Montreal. Gable scored 12 times in his rookie season, so we know he has a nose for the end zone, but he has just six touchdowns since that 2013 season. Yes, injuries have limited him to just 24 games since then, but he has been relatively healthy this year, playing in 12 games, and has yet to find the same success scoring touchdowns as he did his first CFL season.

The Ticats may not have won, but continuing to find a way to get Gable, or any other running back, the ball can only help an offense that hits way too many rough patches during games.

Bad: Vanishing act

The disappearing act that this team displays at times would make Harry Houdini jealous. After a marvellous first drive that made everyone in attendance at Tim Hortons Field think the Ticats were going to lay a beating on the reeling Redblacks, the Ticats pretty much vanished for much of the next two quarters. They allowed Ottawa to score the next 20 points and build a 13-point lead by halftime.

Hamilton’s drives after they opened the scoring ended punt, punt, interception, interception, end of half while Ottawa’s drives were field goal, punt, touchdown, touchdown, fumble, field goal to end the first half. Want to know why Hamilton is 6-9? Look no further than their in-game lulls. This simply has to stop. Ottawa is not a juggernaut by any means, but they took advantage of Hamilton when the Ticats couldn’t move the football, built a lead that they then squandered, but did just enough to get the win. These two teams could very well meet with a Grey Cup trip on the line, and if Hamilton goes into another one of their mid-game slumbers, the Redblacks will go back to the Grey Cup for the second time in the franchise’s three-year history.

Bad: Does anyone know how to tackle?

Another problem the Ticats have had the entire season is their complete inability to tackle. Once a hallmark of the defense from 2013-15, this season has seen the team regress to the point that it is a surprise when they wrap someone up short and stop them from converting for a first down. Emmanuel Davis was particularly bad against Ottawa, with him missing three potential drive-ending tackles. Larry Dean, who has been amongst the more sure tacklers on this team, missed a big one that led to a Redblacks score. When the Ticats needed a stop, they didn’t get it, and a lot of that goes back to how poorly this team tackles. Ottawa’s receivers are excellent when it comes to getting yards after the catch — 198 of Ottawa’s 393 passing yards came via YAC — and Hamilton failed time and again to stop them from making plays once the ball was in their hands. If it continues next week, the Redblacks will be division champions again.

Bad: Maher’s miss

I feel bad for Brett Maher. The guy will wear the goat horns for his 47-yard miss than would have put the Ticats up one with under three minutes to play. But simply put, he has to make those kicks. It looks especially bad when the man he replaced went seven-for-seven in his game later in the night and is five field goals away from breaking Dave Ridgeway’s single-season CFL record.

While I think everyone would prefer Hamilton score touchdowns and not rely on Maher, the fact of the matter is he is employed to make those kicks and he failed. With the way the game was going, I have little doubt Ottawa would have marched the field and sealed the game with walk-off field goal, but that still doesn’t minimize how big that miss was. If Maher makes that kick, it changes everything. The defense would have played differently, Ottawa may not have started with the ball at their own 40, and even if they made some plays to get into field goal range, they have Chris Milo who is one of the two or three worst kickers in the league this year. Nothing is every guaranteed when he lines up for a kick. It is always an adventure.

But he is given a chance to give his team the lead late in the game, Maher needs to make those kicks.

Good: Roles players stepping up

With so many star players hurt, some of the lesser knowns needed to step up and they did, especially in the receiving corps. Both Junior Collins and John Chiles caught touchdown passes and combined for seven catches for 82 yards. Terrence Toliver and Andy Fantuz were, well, Terrence Toliver and Andy Fantuz, but if the Ticats are going to weather this injury storm they are going to need guys like Chiles and Collins to step up and on Friday they did just that.

Good/Bad: Newcomers provide a mixed bag

A lot was made of all the moves the Ticats made over the last week, and I think we saw more good than bad. Keon Raymond’s debut probably went the best, with the former Stampeder and Argonaut registering seven tackles and showing some excellent closing speed to on a few open-field tackles. He also nearly had a pick-6, but the ball go just by him. It is a shame because a pick-6 would have capped a pretty good Ticats debut for Raymond.

The other two newcomers who saw time, Justin Capicciotti and Xavier Fulton, are harder to judge. Capicciotti did not find his way onto the stat sheet and offensive line play is not exactly where your eyes go, so knowing how Fulton played is not easy. No one’s Ticats debut was a roaring success, but neither were they major failures. Ticats fans should expect to see more out of these guys as the weeks progress, but with so little time left to right the ship, these guys are going to have to accelerate their learning curve.

Good: Campbell’s brain fart

The tie that Ottawa has makes the possibility of these two teams ending up with the same record at the end of the year highly unlikely, but I still do not understand why Rick Campbell would not try to score when they had the ball down to the Hamilton one-yard line with under a minute to play in the game. This is a two-game, total-point series and the Redblacks head into the rematch with just a one-point edge over the Ticats. If Hamilton wins by anything more than one, they take the season series. Again, I know that it is extremely unlikely for these two teams to end up tied in the standings at year’s end, but if by some crazy happenstance they do, Campbell’s decision not to score will look mighty foolish.

Final Thoughts

The hill the Ticats have to climb to claim first place is a steep one. For starters, they absolutely must beat the Redblacks in Ottawa next Friday. Anything less than a win and the Ticats can not win the division and earn the bye that comes with it. Anything else than can help them is moot if they do not win at TD Place.

That said, with a little help from Calgary and Saskatchewan, the Ticats can clinch a playoff spot regardless of the outcome of next Friday’s game. Hamilton needs just one win to punch their playoff ticket, but they can also make the postseason with losses by the Argos (to Calgary) and the Als (to Saskatchewan).

While losing out on first place would be tough to swallow considering the expectations this team had coming into the season, making the playoffs means they have a chance to win the Grey Cup. It is an admittedly small chance because, barring something unforeseen, the team from the West that crosses over is likely going to have a better record than the Ticats, but the Tabbies will be at home and that counts for something come playoff time.

Edmonton is a potential crossover opponent and those two teams will meet on October 28 at Tim Hortons Field in what could be an East Semi-Final preview. Hamilton beat the Esks earlier this year in the “Comeback at Commonwealth,” and they could give their fans a little hope if they can beat the Esks in Hamilton in two weeks.

But first up is Ottawa and with the East Division title still in reach, beating the Redblacks at TD Place next Friday is the only thing that matters right now.

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