Quarterback Johnny Manziel needs to earn his first victory of the season if the Montreal Alouettes hope to remain in playoff contention.
A loss against the league-best Calgary Stampeders on Thanksgiving Monday would mathematically eliminate the Alouettes, who need to win all four remaining games this year for a chance at the playoffs.
The Alouettes, who have lost three games in a row, have not been to the post-season since 2014.
“We need to have everything go right in our situation if we were to even make the playoffs,” said Manziel after practice on Saturday. “Right now we’re playing like these last four games mean the world to us, especially this next one coming up.
“This is a good opportunity for us to play a team like Calgary. Give them credit for what they’ve done this year and how they’ve looked. But the thing about this league is anybody on any given day can come out and beat any team across the league.”
On paper, Monday’s encounter is a total mismatch.
The first-place Stampeders (11-2-0) and last-place Alouettes (3-11-0) are having polar opposite seasons.
Calgary’s offence leads the league in passing touchdowns (30), average time of possession (31:31) and fewest turnovers (33). Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell has thrown a CFL-best 29 TDs. Their defence has given up a league-low 264 points.
Montreal’s offence is dead last in nearly all categories, including points scored (247), passing yards (2,843), passing touchdowns (8), time of possession (26:56) and sacks allowed (54). The Alouettes have conceded a league-high 436 points.
Those numbers don’t deter Montreal head coach Mike Sherman.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job all year long,” said Sherman of the Stampeders. “I tip my hat off to them. But we’re really looking forward to playing them and giving them our best shot.
“This isn’t the first year they’re good. They have a good foundation, a great coaching staff and players who have played there a little bit. And their quarterback is something special, which makes their life a lot easier.
“Whatever happens after this one game, happens. We’re not thinking about playoffs, we’re not thinking about anything other than Calgary and playing a great game against them and hopefully winning.”
Calgary became the first team to clinch a playoff spot with a 38-16 victory over the Toronto Argonauts last week. The Stamps would secure home-field advantage in the West Final with a win in Montreal.
An Alouettes victory would certainly be an upset – one of the biggest of the year – but history is on Montreal’s side. The Stamps have not won in Montreal in five seasons.
In last year’s matchup at Percival Molson Stadium, the Alouettes scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter for the 30-23 comeback victory. The year before that, Montreal snapped Calgary’s 16-game unbeaten run with a 17-8 win.
The Stampeders’ last win in Montreal was on July 12, 2013.
Montreal will be looking to build on its 34-29 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last week. Manziel threw two touchdown passes in that one, the first of his CFL career, as the Alouettes kept the game close despite being outclassed in the air and on the ground.
Manziel was limited to nine completions on 16 pass attempts while running back William Stanback managed just 31 rushing yards.
Saskatchewan had 506 yards of total offence to Montreal’s 187.
“We understand where we stand right now, and it’s not working out in our favour or what we want it to be,” said Stanback. “But at the end of the day, we’re still going to come out every day and give it our all because we love this sport and this is why we’re doing it. On Monday afternoon, we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”
Calgary Stampeders (11-2-0) at Montreal Alouettes (3-11-0)
Monday, Percival Molson Stadium
Injuries on offence: Alouettes wide receiver B.J. Cunningham (knee) and offensive lineman Tony Washington (foot) are day-to-day. Neither player has practised this week.
Already in town: Usually visiting teams travel the day before a game but the Stampeders arrived in Montreal on Saturday, a full 48 hours before kickoff.
Last meeting: The Stamps beat Montreal 25-8 in the sixth week of the season. Matt Shiltz and Drew Willy had shared quarterback duties for the Alouettes in that one.
East versus West: Montreal is 1-8 against West Division opposition this season. Calgary is 7-0 versus the East.
Rogers returns: Stamps wide receiver Eric Rogers is expected to return to the lineup on Monday. Rogers (knee injury) has not played since July 28.