It’s not so much that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost, because that’s going to happen in the long CFL season. And it’s not even how they lost, imploding in the second half to a Saskatchewan Roughrider team dealing with multiple injuries and a wobbly quarterback situation.
No, it’s how the Ticats reacted as they were losing that should be cause for concern.
There were at least two outbursts of emotion along the Hamilton sideline during Thursday’s game, one featuring receiver Brandon Banks that was caught by TSN cameras and relayed by sideline reporter Matthew Scianitti in the wake of an ill-advised and poorly executed quick kick in the third quarter.
“Brandon Banks had some choice words for the Ticats coaching staff after that blown play. Banks threw his helmet right down,” Scianitti Tweeted.
Hamilton head coach June Jones addressed the issue in his post-game comments and said he’d already spoken to the team about it.
“That’s something that loser’s do,” Jones said. “If you want to be a loser, then don’t play together. All teams don’t get beat, they get beat from within and that’s how you get beat from within.”
The thing is, at the time Banks’ emotional outburst – and there was at least one more confrontation between teammates on the sideline in the second half – the Ticats were within striking distance of a victory, despite having blown a 10-point halftime lead. Adversity, as quarterback Jeremiah Masoli pointed out, is an inherent part of football.
“There’s no excuse to be losing our composure out there. We were still in the game, there’s no need to go crazy,” he said. “We’re not going to have a lead for the whole game, every game. You get frustrated but you have to turn that into positivity. You can’t let it get the best of you.”
Banks was unavailable for comment after Thursday’s game, gone from the locker room before the media arrived.
There are of course issues beyond the emotional issues. The offence has scored just one offensive touchdown in its last nine quarters while the defence has looked consistently susceptible to the big play. The Ticats were minus-3 in turnover ratio (tied for last in the CFL) coming into Thursday and are now minus-6.
And the less said about special teams, Frankie Williams punt return TD notwithstanding, the better.
Masoli’s so-so performance against the Riders combined with two straight losses will be enough to get the pro-Johnny Manziel crowd fired up, owing to the fact that the backup quarterback is always Mr. Popularity when things aren’t going well – even when he isn’t Johnny Football.
But Jones responded with flat and final “no” when asked if he was contemplating making a change. Given everything else that’s going on, that’s probably for the best.
The current state of affairs poses the first real challenge of the June Jones era. Everything was all sweetness and light, both inside the dressing room and among the fan base, as he led them back from the 0-8 precipice in 2017. But the boo birds were out at Tim Hortons Field as the team struggled on Thursday and social media was universally unkind in the aftermath. Ugly losses are more worrisome for everybody.
This feels like a test of leadership, if not quite a crisis of one. At 2-3 after a tough slate of West Division games, the Ticats still have plenty of time to get their house in order, both on the field and inside their own heads. Sometimes a little squabbling can bring a family closer together.
“Let’s not blow it up. Guys are just mad that we’re not winning,” Masoli said, by way of adding perspective. “It’s not a big deal.”
Well, maybe. But how big a deal it is largely depends on how it’s dealt with and what happens next.