What we learned in Hamilton’s tough 31-28 loss to the Eskimos

The Ticats found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and fell 31-28 to the Edmonton Eskimos at Tim Hortons Field on Thursday night. Here is what we learned.

Near perfect isn’t good enough
Football is a 60-minute game, and the Ticats led for 55 of those minutes on Thursday, yet still lost. And the two biggest reasons for their defeat were a pair Eskimos’ touchdown drives the defense allowed with less than three minutes left in each half. Hamilton went full prevent mode near the end of the first half and allowed Edmonton to march down the field and score with about a minute left. It was a dispiriting ending to a half where the defense had mostly played well.

And of course we all know what happened at the end of the game, where the Ticats couldn’t stop Edmonton as the latter drove 75 yards in 47 seconds to score the game’s winning points. A stop in either instance, or even a field goal attempt on the first, and the Ticats likely find themselves in the win column. Instead, the defense failed to hold an opponent when it matter most and the Ticats remain winless.

They played it too safe
Prior to Edmonton’s winning scoring drive, the Ticats had the ball 1st-and-10 from Edmonton’s 36-yard line with less than two minutes, and instead of attacking like they had most of the game, they went conservative and it cost them. Two runs netted seven yards, including just one on 2nd-and-four, and the Ticats settled for a field goal. That gave them a five-point lead which did not feel like enough, and ultimately it was not.

I know that if the Ticats went to the air on second down and the pass was incomplete, there would be complaints about that. But Hamilton had done well all game by being aggressive and by continuing to attack instead of being passive, perhaps the Ticats escape Tim Hortons Field with their first win of 2017.

Special teams is in good hands
One of the hallmarks of the Kent Austin teams has exception special teams play and while last year was a bit of a down year for the special teams units, it looks like they are ready to reemerge as a force in 2017. A blocked extra point and a blocked punt that was scooped up for a touchdown, a kicker that is still perfect on the season booting triples and is crushing it in the punting game, and coverage units that allowed very little tells me that the special teams units are doing their jobs. It isn’t perfect — the return game is still a problem (more on that later) — but you cannot place any part of this loss on the often-forgotten third of this team.

Ted Laurent went beast mode
You know who had an awesome game? Ted Laurent had an awesome game. Three sacks for big No. 97 and he was a disruptive force all night. In fact, the whole defensive line played well, with Chick teaming up with Laurent on the latter’s third sack of the night; Davon Coleman absolutely obliterating Mike Reilly on numerous occasions with clean, legal hits; and Justin Capicciotti getting in the back field frequently. It was the best performance by the front four this season and it was led by their anchor in the middle.

Mike Reilly is tougher than a $2 steak
Mike Reilly took an absolute beating against the Ticats. I lost count of the number of big hits he took, but he kept getting back up and ultimately led his team to victory. Just one tough dude. I know this isn’t news, but it needs to be pointed out. Yip of my cap to Edmonton’s No. 13 on his warrior-like performance.

Richard Leonard is a keeper
The Ticats have had secondary issues all year — surprising, I know — but one player who has more than earned his spot on this roster is rookie Richard Leonard. After hauling in two interceptions and recovering one fumble against the B.C. Lions, Leonard continued his stellar play against the Eskimos. No interceptions this week, but a couple pass knockdowns and some great coverage shows that Leonard is an all-round player, not just a one-trick pony. Even when the walking wounded of Abdul Kanneh and Emanuel Davis get back, Richard Leonard should still have a spot in this secondary.

Still too undisciplined
It was a flag fest for both teams on Thursday, but the Ticats “won” the penalty battle by being flagged 16 times to Edmonton’s 10 for 138 yards to Edmonton’s 84. It was sloppy, ugly football for most of the game, but the Ticats proved to be the sloppiest and ugliest in this department. The Ticats are simply not good enough to overcome giving their opponents over a full field length of free yards.

We need to talk about Brandon Banks
As much as it pains me to say this, I think it might be time for the Ticats to move on from Brandon Banks as the team’s primary return man. Whether it is the schemes, his own slip in play or if he is trying to do too much, he is simply not the player he was in 2014 and 2015. The explosiveness that made him the most dangerous player in the league doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Maybe it is time to try to get him more involved in the offense and allow some younger players, like Jalen Saunders or Junior Collins, to become the team’s No. 1 option on returns because Banks just isn’t getting it done.

Looking ahead
For the first time since 2007, the Ticats are 0-4. If you remember 2007, that was the third of four years where the Ticats finished with five or fewer wins. I do not think this Ticats team is as bad as those mid-aughts teams, but they are winless, so maybe they are.

The Ticats need to get some wins and fast, but it sure isn’t going to happen next week when they head to McMahon Stadium to take on the Calgary Stampeders. Hamilton has not won in Calgary since 2004 and it would take a miracle for this year’s team to end their Cowtown drought. It sure looks like it is going to be a long season in Steeltown and that goose egg in the win column will be around for at least one more week.

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