The highs and lows of the Ticats 29-23 loss to the Bombers

They say old habits die hard and it was old habits, of the negative variety, that sunk the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their latest attempt to get back to .500, a 29-23 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field on Friday night.

Firstly, the penalties. In the first half alone the Ticats were flagged nine times for 82 yards worth of penalties. For a game, that’s bad, but not world ending. For a half, well, no wonder the team was down 12 after the first 30 minutes. But credit where credit is due as the Ticats clawed back in the second half to get the deficit down to three, but that was as close as it got.

Secondly, the turnovers. The Ticats have neither been good at creating them nor not making them. The Ticats turned over the ball three times in this game, including two fumbles in four series in the first half. The Bombers turned those two turnovers into seven points. The final margin of victory for the Bombers was six.

The Ticats also had ample opportunities to steal momentum with a turnover of their own, but only managed one on the night, but had at least three near interceptions that went incomplete instead. On the road, against a very good team, you need to make those plays to change the game. The Ticats didn’t and they lost because of it.

Here are some more thoughts.

Low: Harris goes off

Since joining the Bombers Andrew Harris has been good, but not great against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Just one 100-yard rushing game and two 100-all-purpose-yard games in five contests against the Ticats since Harris donned the blue and gold back in 2016. But in this one, especially early on, he was the man. He finished with 82 yards on 15 carries and chipped in another 46 yards on five catches, but it was early in the game where he steamrolled the Ticats and was a major part of two Winnipeg scoring drives. The Ticats came into the game with the league’s worst defence against the run and they did nothing in this one to reverse their year-long stint at the bottom of that category.

Low: An offensive line

While many are quick to blame Jeremiah Masoli for the loss, a lot of the blame needs to go to the offensive line. Simply put, they were offensive. Masoli did what he could, but he was constantly under siege. The running game worked in spurts but stats guru Derek Taylor of TSN pointed something out that really puts things into perspective:

A half-yard before contact? Yikes!

Masoli was sacked four times in this one, and he was rushed much more than that. One of his highlights from this game came on a pass where he was hit and still found Brandon Banks for a big gain. No one player, or even one unit, costs a team the game, but it is more than fair to look at the entire offensive line and say they didn’t do enough in this one.

High: Holy Masoli

Let’s talk about Jeremiah Masoli, shall we, because in the aftermath of the game there is a small, but vocal, segment of the fanbase trying to pin this loss on him, and it is further proof why QB winzzzzz is a terrible, useless stat. Masoli was, for the most part, magnificent in this one, going 17-of-27 for 251 yards and a touchdown, while adding another 80 yards on the ground on seven carries. He did have one fumble, but he did not throw an interception for the first time all season. He was great. Full stop. End of sentence.

Masoli is probably never going to get the respect he deserves from the members of the fanbase that still wish Zach Collaros or Johnny Manziel were here, but I’m not sure what more Masoli needs to do on an individual basis to get the naysayers off his back. Collaros and Manziel aren’t walking back through the door, and even if they did Jeremiah Masoli has been better than both players this year and it’s not even close.

Masoli is second in yards, fourth in TD passes and yes, his eight interceptions are tied for the league lead… with Mike Reilly. The same Mike Reilly who threw two interceptions, including one on the game’s final drive, to cost his team a win against the B.C. Lions. “But Reilly has a Grey Cup ring, a MOP award and 16 TD passes, which is twice as many as Masoli.” All true, but Reilly won that Grey Cup in his third year as a full-time starter; Masoli is in his first. Reilly won that MOP in his fifth year as a full-time starter; Masoli is in his first. Edmonton has rushed for nine touchdowns; the Ticats have rushed for 11.

Yes, Reilly is more accomplished than Masoli, but it’s not apples to apples. It’s a fully grown, mature apple to one that is just beginning to grow (I’m not good with fruit analogies). Point being, if you are someone who likes to always say it is #JeremiahsFault, then you need new material. Jeremiah Masoli gives this team the best chance to win. Period.

High: Speedy be beasting

When Jalen Saunders went down early in the game — and boy did that suck (more in a second) — the Ticats needed someone to step up and take his spot as the team’s go-to guy. Enter Brandon Desean Banks, who went off on the Bombers to the tune of six catches for 106 yards and one fantastic touchdown grab. Week in and week out Brandon Banks just keeps performing at a level that it is making it difficult to come up with new ways of saying “Brandon Banks rules!” So… Brandon Banks rules, guys! He is well on his way to another 1,000-yard season and is one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. I said it before and I’ll say it again: Brandon Banks rules!

Low: Saunders goes down

For the high that Banks provided, the low was given to us by Jalen Saunders. Not for anything he did on the field, but because he wasn’t on it. Very early on, after catching the team’s first pass for a 26-yard gain, Saunders was taken off the field with an injury and did not return. We do not know the severity of the injury, and with the team on its bye we likely won’t know until next week, but the longer Saunders is out the worse it will be for the Ticats. He had been the team’s top pass catcher before Banks overtook him on Friday, but the Ticats are their best offensively when Tasker, Toliver, Banks, Saunders and Williams all get involved and are all healthy. Hopefully, Saunders won’t be out for long.

Low: Winnipeg’s final drive and when criticism is fair

The Ticats cut the Bombers’ lead to three with about six and a half minutes left. The defence, for the most part, had played pretty well all game. Ticats would have been well within their rights to the think the defence would get the Bombers off the field quickly and give their offence a chance with lots of time on the clock to drive for the game-tying or game-winning score. Instead what happened was the Bombers marched down the field with little resistance and were able to score three and take over five minutes off the clock. The Ticats got the ball back in decent position after a good return from Sean Thomas-Erlington, but with just 82 seconds remaining tried to do too much early and failed in their comeback attempt.

While live tweeting the game from the Podskee Wee Wee account I made mention of one play in particular where Hamilton safety Mike Daly got absolutely schooled by fellow McMaster alum Daniel Petermann. Daly takes a horrible angle, Petermann cuts back and picks up 15 yards on a pass that could have been stopped about four or five yards short of a first down and forced the Bombers to kick a field goal with about two minutes left. That added 40 or so seconds would have been huge for the offence.

I took some heat for the comment from a few people, most of them mentioning that Daly flew to Winnipeg the day of the game after being with his wife who gave birth to their first child. While I get the feeling of wanting to take it easy on a player in that situation, if a guy is on the field he is fair game to criticism. Daly missed a tackle at a key moment in the game. It’s that simple. If you are on the field you are open to judgment on your play from doofuses like me just like any other player.

Low: Ottawa redux

Remember a couple weeks ago when the Ticats turned a ho-hum performance into an exciting finish by driving for the winning points before surrendering two sacks on game’s final two plays and losing? Of course you do; it was against Ottawa and it ticked you off. Well, it happened again (sorta) against Winnipeg. The fact that the Ticats have twice now had the chance to make a late comeback and twice have had it end on sacks on third down is almost unbelievable. It’s these little things that keep the Ticats from getting to that next level. Hopefully, we never see it again.

Looking ahead

In trying to be positive let’s take a look at things as they stand as the Ticats head into the second of three byes they have this season. The good stuff is that they are still in second place with the inside track on a playoff berth. Beat the Argos and Als, and maybe steal one from the Redblacks, and chances are the Ticats are playing ball after the final week of the regular season. Also, after an opening gauntlet that saw them play six of their first eight against the West, to sit at 3-5 isn’t the end of the world. Before the season if I said the Ticats would split with Winnipeg, do no worse than split with Edmonton, and still have a chance to split with Calgary and B.C. (and possibly sweep B.C.) you probably would have taken it. Again, not ideal, but not horrible either.

The bad is that if the team doesn’t make too many critical errors they could very easily be sitting anywhere between five and eight wins. The loss to Calgary wasn’t as bad as the final score makes it out to be; they could have, with just the tiniest bit of offensive success, won in Regina and against Ottawa; and something similar could probably be said for the this latest loss to the Bombers. The Ticats have been in every game they have played, with only the second half of the second game against Saskatchewan being one where they were vastly outplayed, and they took a 10-point lead into halftime in that one. This tells me the Tabbies lack a killer instinct and as we creep towards the midseason point that is not something you want the team to be lacking.

But when the Cats return for their bye they get a very uneven Edmonton team at home and don’t leave Ontario to play a game until September 22. These next few weeks are where we will find out just who the 2018 edition of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats really are.

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