Ticats comeback drops lowly Lions (and nine other thoughts)

Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Beating a 1-6 team (now 1-7) isn’t going to propel the Ticats up any power rankings, but moving to 6-2 and being six points clear of second in the division is a thing worth cheering.

After falling behind early, and staying behind until very late in the game, the Ticats found a way using a mix of timely defence, tremendous special teams and just enough offence to topple the moribund Lions 35-34 at Tim Hortons Field on Saturday night.

The game had all the hallmarks of a classic Ticats letdown. They were playing a team in dire need of a win to get their season going. They get down early and stay down for most of the game, losing by as much as 15 late in the fourth quarter. The chips were down, and in the past the Ticats probably would have lost. But they didn’t, and even with all the injuries, it feels like something special could be brewing in the Hammer.

Here are some other thoughts.

Great Dane

Saturday was easily Dane Evans’ best night as a Hamilton Tiger-Cat. His 260 yards on 23-of-32 passing and two TD passes weren’t otherworldly. But he led the Ticats back from down 15 late in the fourth quarter and did it by playing smart football.

He developed some chemistry with Brandon Banks, continued to rely heavily on Bralon Addison, and maybe most importantly did not turn the ball over. Evans was given time to go through his reads and he didn’t hesitate to sling it when needed. He was clearly more comfortable in the offence in game two than he was in game one, and I imagine that will continue the more he plays.

Best in the wooooooooooooooooooooooorld

I made the comment on Twitter late last week that Brandon Banks was the best receiver in the world. And while yes, I was being a little hyperbolic, I think it is now undeniable that Banks is the league’s best receiver and probably the front runner for MOP at this point in the season.

Banks was once again superb in his return to the lineup after missing last week against the Riders. He caught nine passes for 137 yards, two TDs and a two-point convert, including the game winner with 54 seconds left against the Lions. He now leads the league in receiving yards, catches, targets, and is second in receiving TDs – all that while missing a game. As Banks goes so goes the Ticats offence and Speedy B showed that once again on Saturday night.

Home cooking

With the win Saturday, the Ticats are now 5-0 at home this season.

While having played five of their nine home games before Labour Day means the second half of the season is going to be challenging, the Ticats making Tim Hortons Field a house of horrors for the opposition bodes well for their chances of making the Grey Cup. Nothing is set in stone, but it sure is starting to look like the path to the Grey Cup in the East will run through Hamilton. The Ticats are showing coming into the steel city means you leave with a loss.

Opening up the bag of tricks

The Ticats used a plethora of gadget plays against the Lions, many to great effect.

We saw some wildcat formations with Bralon Addison — a former high school QB — and some running plays with Addison taking the handoff (we also saw this against the Riders when Maleek Irons was lost for the game early on). We saw a pass from Luke Tasker to Dane Evans in the red zone that went just incomplete and some trickeration on special teams in the form of an excellently executed onside punt.

The Ticats are using every bullet in their chamber and it certainly makes for an interesting team to watch.

Specials is becoming routine

Speaking of special teams, they once again came up huge.

The onside punt led to three early on, but they also added another return TD to their impressive total so far this year. Frankie Williams is turning into one of the league’s top returners, as he took a kickoff 108 yards to the house immediately following a B.C. touchdown.

Williams almost added a second return TD to his ledger, but that one was called back for an illegal block. That one also featured the old Music City Miracle-style throw back and it would have been the highlight of the week if it stood.

Hamilton continues to get big plays from the third unit and I don’t see it slowing down any time soon.

Flag fest

While it’s easy to rag on referee Al Bradbury — anyone reading this knows he’s kind of a punching bag for fans — but the Ticats didn’t take penalties because Bradbury’s crew sucks. It was more because they played some very undisciplined football.

One Lions drive in particular, a scoring drive that put the Lions up 27-19, saw the Ticats take six penalties, including one that kept the drive alive after the defence got a stop and another that put the Lions on the one-yard line. The Ticats played very undisciplined at times, and it cannot continue going into the second half of the season.

Running in emp-D

Figuring out if Hamilton has a solid run defence or a terrible one seems to be as foolish as trying to catch a fish with baseball bat.

One week, such as last week when they held William Powell to 51 yards on 15 carries, they look tremendous and the next, such as Saturday when John White gashed them for 124 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns, they look awful. It’s a roll of the dice as to which run D will show up week to week. Given that Ottawa’s John Crockett and his impressive 5.4 yards per carry is up next, the Ticats will need to shore up their run defence quickly.

Hall game needs to move

Saturday night was the Hall of Fame game, as the 2019 class was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

It’s a great class, with Jon Cornish, Mervyn Fernandez and Terry Greer headlining, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest a change: the Hall of Fame game should be played in the pre-season. The NFL plays their Hall of Fame game as the league’s first pre-season game, and I think the CFL should follow suit. I get the argument that doing it during a regular season game means more eyeballs will likely be on it, but maybe the league (and TSN) could pop a rating for a pre-season tilt.

The reason I wish to see the game moved is because a good part of the television broadcast is spent talking to the inductees, including having them in the booth. I am all for celebrating some of the greats this game and league have to offer, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the product on the field.

If you watch any of the pre-season games that TSN broadcasts, you know that the vast majority of the game, and most of the second half, sees the commentators talk about league-wide issues and general CFL stuff. You can kill two birds with one stone by making the mundane aspects of a pre-season game more interesting by coupling it with the Hall of Fame enshrinements.

Gotta keep ‘em separated

It really is starting to feel like the East Division is the Ticats’ to lose.

After nine weeks, the Ticats sit atop the division with a 6-2 record, while the rest of the division has just seven wins combined. The Ticats are six points clear of the second-place Als and third-place Redblacks, and 10 points up on the last-place Argos.

There is still plenty of football left to play, but it would take a fairly large collapse by the Ticats for them not to be hosting the East Final in November. With games coming up against Ottawa this week and Toronto on Labour Day (with a trip to B.C. in between), the Ticats have a chance to put an almost insurmountable amount of distance between themselves and the rest of the division by Labour Day.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.