Classic Calgary collapse costs Cats (and six other thoughts)

Same as it ever was.

While I know the talking heads didn’t write “Once in a Lifetime” about the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but all I could think about when I watched Bo Levi Mitchell kneel out Calgary’s win over the Ticats on Saturday evening was that line from the song.

Like a boring version of Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow, the Ticats keep reliving the same day over and over when they play Calgary, especially at McMahon: come close, but ultimately lose in a heartbreaking manner.

In 2009, Quinton Porter was sacked as the Ticats were driving for the game-winning field goal; Ticats lose 15-14. In 2012, it was a botched hold on a Luca Congi field goal; Ticats lose 34-32. There was a 26-22 loss in 2013; a 10-7 loss in 2014; a 24-23 loss in 2015; a 30-24 loss in 2016.

And Saturday, while outplaying the Stamps for the majority of the game, the final score was another single-point win for Calgary, 19-18.

Winning on the road isn’t easy, so it is no surprise to see two evenly matched teams battle to a one-point win for the home side, but it was how the Ticats lost that feels like this was the one that got away. Just a single point in the second half, occurring on the kickoff that opened the half, is an inexcusable output from a team that pretty much owned that battle for the first 30 minutes. When the offence needed to make a play, they didn’t.

Then on what was the game’s final contested play, Lirim Hajrullahu has his 42-yard field goal blocked when Tre Roberson jumped 75 feet in the air (that’s only a slight exaggeration) to knock it down and secure the win for the Stampeders. It harkened back to Andy Fantuz’s muff over a half-decade ago.

Same as it ever was.

Too many turnovers

When a young quarterback starts seeing more playing time, mistakes become more common.

Dane Evans has more interceptions than touchdown passes and while that is an understandable problem, it is still a problem. The Ticats turned the ball over four times to the Stampeders’ zero and that is what makes the difference in tight contests such as this one.

The Ticats have won games this year when losing the turnover battle, but it is rare. In this one we saw the blocked field goal, as well as a pair of fumbles and an interception on a deep pass when the Ticats were really starting to get going. The turnovers only netted the Stamps a pair of field goals, but take those six points off the board and the outcome is much different.

It is almost a cliche at this point, but if the Ticats want to compete and win a championship they are going to have to become more careful with the football. Good teams can overcome these types of issues sometimes, but asking a team to do it on a weekly basis is a recipe for disaster. They’ve been fortunate it hasn’t cost them more times than just this week.

Not enough takeaways

This game could have gotten out of hand early if the Ticats turned a number of near turnovers into actual turnovers. By my count the Ticats dropped four potential interceptions, some very early in the game that could have swung this thing wide open for them.

Dylan Wynn dropped one that hit him in the chest, Justin Tuggle dropped one that hit him in the hands, Richard Leonard dropped one on a diving attempt at the goal line and a tipped pass fell to the turf with four Ticats nearby. It was incredibly unfortunate for the Tabbies that none of those resulted in a change of possession. If even one of them falls the Ticats way this outcome might have been different.

Second-half struglies

No, that’s not a typo. The Ticats, especially offensively, struggled mightily and played some ugly football. Struggles plus ugly equals struglies (™ Josh Smith and 3DownNation).

Fun portmanteau aside, the Ticats offence seemed stuck in the mud in the second half. Their five second half drives ended fumble, fumble, missed field goal, punt, blocked field goal. That’s about as bad as it gets.

The Ticats have had these spells in almost every game this year, and while it hasn’t hurt them all that much — they are still 9-3 and in first place in their division — these slumps could come back to doom them in a one-and-done playoff scenario.

Do I think the Ticats are still the best team in the division? Yes and by a wide margin. But that doesn’t mean this team still can’t get better and finding ways to put two good halves together would be a good place to start.

Killers Bs on attack

Tough loss aside, it was another fantastic day for Bralon Addison and a mostly fantastic day from Brandon Banks (his fumble in the third quarter is the lone pockmark on his day).

The Killers Bees — and for the record, I called them that before Duane Forde did on Saturday’s broadcast, check out the latest Podskee Wee Wee for proof — combined for 219 yards on 16 catches and one touchdown — a 30-yard catch-and-run by Banks in the second quarter.

I won’t say they’re the top receiver tandem in the CFL because there are a lot of good ones (including the pair that was opposite them on Saturday, Reggie Begelton and Eric Rogers), but they are definitely in the conversation.

Road map to the playoffs

The Ticats had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Calgary and that didn’t happen, but they are still down to a win-and-in scenario against Edmonton. It is really as simple as beating the Esks next week and the playoffs are in the Ticats’ future.

But even if the Ticats fall to Edmonton, the Ticats can still get their playoff ticket punched if both the Argos and Redblacks lose. Given that Toronto plays Calgary and Ottawa plays a game next week, it is likely that the Ticats will become the first CFL team to guarantee themselves a spot in the Grey Cup tournament.

Finally…. parity has arrived in the Canadian Football League

Tell me you didn’t read that in The Rock’s voice and I’ll call you a liar.

One of the running themes of this CFL season has been how every team is flawed and no team is as good as their record says they are. I’ve heard that said countless times about the Ticats (and, even if less so, also the Bombers).

I’ve also heard how certain teams, namely the Riders and the Ticats, aren’t as good as their record shows because they haven’t beaten anyone (the same was also said about Edmonton, but now that they’re at 6-6 fewer people think they are a legitimate Grey Cup contender).

No one is really saying that about the Stamps because they rightfully get the benefit of the doubt, but if everyone they’ve beaten hasn’t beaten anyone does that mean they haven’t beaten anyone either?

It’s circular logic that leads back to one thing: there is no elite team in the CFL this year, just a few really good ones (Winnipeg, Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Calgary), some good ones (Montreal, Edmonton), some bad ones (Toronto, B.C.) and a truly awful one (Ottawa… how did they beat Calgary in Calgary to start the year?).

The fact is that parity has finally arrived in the CFL, and while it seems most fans don’t know how to handle it (and are choosing to handle it by telling you everyone sucks.) What it means is that as we embark on the final third of the regular season we have as wide open a race for the championship as we ever have.

After a decade of Calgary dominance, and a decade of Alouettes dominance preceding that, this is the first time in a long time where every playoff team probably thinks they can win it all. That makes for exciting football, and should make for an exciting end to the season.

Parity is here. Embrace it.

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.