That’s what the Montreal Alouettes handed the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night at Percival Molson Stadium. They used beautiful wrapping paper and even put a pretty bow on it.
Despite a dominant performance from the defence, the Als found a way to put an end to their impressive three-game winning streak.
“I don’t want to say it’s a gift because (the Redblacks) made the plays,” head coach Khari Jones told me after the loss.
“That was the unfortunate part. We didn’t make the plays. Their returner was pretty dynamic. We were lacking some fundamentals there on the returns and just wrapping him up.”
Sorry, coach. That was totally a gift.
This game was huge for obvious reasons. Had the Als closed out the Redblacks, they would’ve wrapped up the season series against the East Division rival. The season series between these two teams will now be decided on Nov. 1 in Ottawa. Will that game mean anything? Only time will tell.
You know the drill. The Als scored 27 points so I’ll give you my 27 observations from the 30-27 loss.
1- The red zone offence has been an issue all season. No one’s talked about it because the Als won three games in a row, but they need to get it sorted out. They scored a touchdown on the second turnover the defence forced, but they had to settle for a field goal on the first one. When the defence gives you the ball back four times, you have to find a way to close out the game.
2- It’s not like Vernon Adams was lighting it up before he got hurt, but the offence clearly wasn’t as effective with Antonio Pipkin. I thought the turning point was when the Quan Bray touchdown was overturned.
3- Speaking of the Bray touchdown, I understand that the ball touched the ground as he was falling down but he never lost control of it. The ball never moved. In my mind, that’s inconclusive at best. I was shocked that they overturned that.
4- I spoke to Bray about it after the game: “It was a catch,” a clearly frustrated Bray said. “The official called an overturn. There’s nothing we can do about it now.”
5- I was also surprised that head coach Khari Jones didn’t challenge for pass interference once the Bray touchdown was overturned. That was such an important drive from the offence because it came after DeVante Dedmon’s second kick-return touchdown.
6- I asked Khari Jones about his decision not to challenge the play for pass interference: “Just from the information that I had, it didn’t sound like it was pass interference. I didn’t get to see it. From the information up top, that’s what I went with. We’ll look at it and if there was (pass interference), we have to get better at that and make sure we’re seeing things the way they are.”
7- Jones didn’t get to see the Bray touchdown for himself? The Als are supposed to have home field advantage at home. Hey scoreboard operator, can we get the coaches a replay on the big screen, please?
8- Speaking of Bray…He finished with six catches for a modest 50 yards, but I’m really liking what I’m seeing. He’s got wheels and he doesn’t shy away from contact. I know it was a challenge for the Als to convince him to take a practice roster spot after training camp, but it’s all worked out for the best. He’s a special player.
9- Jones also called Vernon Adams’ injury a “minor concussion“. I’m not sure what that even means. He’s concussed or he’s not. It was encouraging to see him come out of the tunnel and back onto the sidelines for the end of the game.
10- Pipkin hadn’t suited up since Week 1 in Edmonton. He was clearly rusty, but one thing I noticed from the Edmonton game and Friday’s loss to Ottawa is that he holds on to the ball for way too long. His decision-making has to be sharper. The reason this offence has improved so much is because Jones was calling plays that allowed Adams to get the ball out of his hand quickly. Pipkin has to pull the trigger a lot quicker. I still like the upside but he has quite a bit of work to do in that regard.
11- I know Als fans on Twitter were quick to put all the blame on Pipkin but that’s not fair. I counted at least four clear dropped passes after he came into the game. Jake Wieneke has to come up with that long ball near the right sideline. Malcolm Carter also dropped a ball on second down which would have been enough to convert the first down on the play. Geno Lewis had a drop and so did B.J. Cunningham. It wasn’t all on Pipkin.
12- Cunningham missed the last game against Edmonton because of a knee injury. He got the bye week to recover, too, but he clearly wasn’t himself. I think the injury is still bothering him.
13- I realize that Ottawa’s defence was stacking the box, but the Als got away from the running game. You have to keep William Stanback involved, especially when you have the lead in the fourth quarter.
14- After he fumbled on the final play of the game, Stanback needed help getting off the field. Jones didn’t have an update on his status, but I saw Stanback walking around on the field after the game, so it appears as though he avoided a serious injury.
15- Bob Slowik’s defence continues to improve each week. We talked about the four turnovers they created, but they also kept Ottawa in check all night. The Reblacks only surpassed the 100-yard mark of total offence early in the fourth quarter. That’s just insane.
16- The Als still don’t get enough pressure on the quarterback, but they have arguably the best secondary in the league. Tommie Campbell is playing on another level right now.
17- Ciante Evans came up with a pair of interceptions in the game. What a pick up he ends up being. They released Ernest Jackson before training camp to free up the money to sign him. He’s fit in like a glove.
18- Patrick Levels has been outstanding at the SAM linebacker spot. I think he may have been the best signing of the winter.
19- Another newcomer, Taylor Loffler, had a fumble recovery during the game. He’s all over the field. He’s physical, he’s smart, and he’s been incredible when healthy.
20- I’m not sure how many lives Boris Bede has, but his punting placement continues to be wildly inconsistent. I can’t blame him for missing a field goal attempt from 50-plus yards because that happens, but the punting is a real issue. The Als have to bring someone else in to compete with him. If they decide to go with two kickers, it would probably have to be two Canadians.
21- I liked what I saw from Shakeir Ryan. He looked explosive at different times and I think they should stick with him for at least another week. I’d like to see them develop an offensive package for him, too.
22- Here’s a stat that stunned me: per RDS’ David Arsenault, the last time the Als gave up a kickoff return touchdown was 2010 (!!!) when Argonauts returner Ryan Christian (who?) scored against them.
23- Special teams coordinator Mickey Donovan was fuming after the second Dedmon return. I get to stand on the sideline for my gig with TSN 690 radio, so I get to hear a lot of interesting stuff throughout the game. The Donovan quote was somewhat predictable: “Wrap his ass up”.
24- Which players whiffed on Dedmon on that second return? Here’s the list: Spencer Moore, Martin Bedard, Brandon Calver, Ty Cranston, Greg Reid, Jarnor Jones (a body check, really?), Bedard again, and Bo Lokombo. Give the returner credit, but there’s no way a professional football team can allow that to happen.
25- I loved the nastiness in this game. These two cities are so close that there should be an intense rivalry. Unfortunately, the last time the Als were good, Ottawa wasn’t. And since Ottawa has been a juggernaut in the East, the Als haven’t been good. Now that both teams are battling for second place in the division, maybe we’ll see that fire like we did on Friday night. These teams should hate each other.
26- A good team would’ve found a way to close that game out. I’m not saying the Als aren’t good, but there’s clearly a lot of work left to do before they become a Grey Cup contender. Look, I’m more positive than most (I picked the Als to finish second in the East this year), so this isn’t me being negative. It’s just reality. Ottawa is bad. I know they’re 3-4, but they have some serious issues they need to address. They won’t get two special teams touchdowns every week. But it’s back to the drawing board for the Als. I said it all week: pump the breaks on them being the beast of the East. I think they’ll be fine. But good teams don’t lose back-to-back home games. They have to beat the Riders next Friday night.
27- On a non-CFL note, many people on Twitter and at last night’s game were joking around about the Philadelphia Eagles releasing me (see below). Pretty funny! All kidding aside, I wish the other Joey Alfieri all the best. Is a trip to the CFL up next for him? That would be fun!
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) August 2, 2019