Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

It may not have meant anything to their playoff seeding, but don’t tell the Hamilton Tiger-Cats that this game was meaningless.

Much like a week ago, the Ticats played the vast majority of their starters throughout the game en route to their 14th win of the season, a 38-26 triumph over the Montreal Alouettes.

The rest vs. reps debate was featured heavily in this game, as the Als — who do not have a bye and will be playing in the East Semi-Final against Edmonton — opted to pull starting quarterback Vernon Adams in the first half after he orchestrated two impressive scoring drives. The Ticats did the opposite, playing their starter Dane Evans until well into the fourth quarter.

The debate will continue to rage as the week goes on and both teams face their third consecutive meaningless game, the Als on Friday against the Ottawa Redblacks and the Ticats on Saturday against the Toronto Argonauts.

Whether the Ticats decide to use this final week as a rest week is obviously unknown. But based on how the team has operated since clinching the East Division while they were on their Thanksgiving weekend bye, it wouldn’t surprise me if almost all of the regulars suited up.

Banks’ statement

Forget Bryan Burnham, Reggie Begelton and Cody Fajardo; the race for MOP is over and Brandon Banks will be on the podium accepting the award in Calgary in November.

Banks was scintillating against the Alouettes, catching 11 balls for a career-high 201 yards and three touchdowns. He now sits atop all three major receiving categories with a week to go. His 16 total touchdowns are tops in the league and one back of the team record set by Chris Williams in 2012. Banks also broke the team record for catches in a season in the first quarter, and broke Janor Jones’ ankles on his first quarter touchdown catch.

You are going to hear plenty of arguments over the next week as to why someone should be MOP that isn’t Brandon Banks. Don’t listen to it. It doesn’t matter. Speedy B is MOP and you take that to the bank.

Steinauer side note

Oh, and while we are at it, Orlondo Steinauer is coach of the year, not Khari Jones.

I don’t care if the Als win 10 games and that Jones turned around a moribund franchise. What Steinauer has done — taking a sub .500 team and turning them into a juggernaut with their backup quarterback starting most of the year; using a rotation of running backs where no one has topped 224 yards rushing (and the leading rusher is a guy who has been out since Week 4); and dealing with one of their best offensive players (Luke Tasker) missing a ton of time — is more impressive.

Yes, the Ticats were expected to be this good, but not without their reigning division MOP quarterback. The Als returning to the realm of competitiveness is a great story, but the job Steinauer has done is second to none. He’s the coach of the year.

Dane Evans

Despite some in the Twittersphere proclaiming that he “isn’t good enough” all Dane Evans has done the past month and half is put up his own MOP-type numbers. Evans is averaging over 370 yards per game the last six weeks and he went over his averages against the Alouettes.

Evans was on fire against Montreal, throwing for 379 yards on 29-of-36 passing (that’s a tick over 80 percent completion percentage) with four touchdowns and one interception. The pick was one of the few throws Evans would have wanted back, but that was it when it comes to mistakes from the second-year signal caller.

Evans still has doubters, but all he has done is lead the Ticats to the best record in franchise history and the best record in the league, while not just being a guy along for the ride. Evans is one of the reasons the Ticats are where they are and if that isn’t good enough, I don’t know what is.

Second half adjustments

It was a rough-ish first half for the Ticats, as the Als found themselves up by seven heading into the mid-game break after a pair of Vernon Adams touchdown drives and one led by Matthew Shiltz. But coming out of the half was a very different Ticats team.

Hamilton scored for times on six drives in the second half, with their final drive being a knee-it-out situation which barely counts as a drive. Hamilton scored touchdowns on three of their first four second half drives and ended their fifth drive with a game-sealing Lirim Hajrullahu field goal.

Considering the Ticats played their starters most of the game, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it is easy to let the foot off the gas when the results don’t matter. The Ticats didn’t do that and this come-from-behind victory shows they are fully focused and ready for the playoffs.

Second down struggles

One area where the Ticats had problems, especially early, was in stopping the Als from converting second downs. For the game, Montreal picked up 14 first downs on their 25 second-down attempts. Where the Ticats were particularly vulnerable was in second-and-long situations (seven yards or more) where the Als were an extremely impressive 8-for-13. How much of this is chalked up to playing a vanilla defence is not known, but watching Montreal pick up first down after first down in second-and-more-than-seven situations is not what any Ticats fan wanted to see.

Tasker’s back (and other player news)

What Ticats fans did want to see was the return of Luke Tasker, playing in just his eighth game this year and first since August.

Tasker wasn’t heavily featured, catching just three passes for 25 yards, but it was nice to see him get his feet wet before the playoffs begin. I imagine we will see more Tasker next week and the thought of what this offence can be with him back in the lineup has to make Ticats fans drool.

In other player news, both Delvin Breaux and Tyrell Sutton left the game early, though whether both were hurt or it was a coaches’ decision is unknown. This is one area where TSN could really step up and help those watching.

When you watch other leagues, commentators will bring up when a player is on the sideline, but there was nary a peep from either Dustin Neilson or Matt Dunigan about why Breaux and Sutton were not in the game. Fans want this information and it is up to the television provider to offer that up.

Addison’s versatility

If there is a player in the CFL more versatile than Bralon Addison, I’ve yet to see them. During his time in Hamilton, we have seen him return kicks, catch passes, rush the ball and throw passes. Against Montreal, Addison had an 18-yard touchdown run and also caught five passes for 53 yards.

Addison has caught 95 balls for 1,236 yards and seven touchdowns this year, while adding another 218 yards on 36 carries with one touchdown rush. It is really a credit to the coaching staff, namely offensive coordinator Tommy Condell, that they have found a way to deploy Addision in so many unique ways, whether it is lined up in the slot, out wide, in the backfield as a runner or as a wildcat QB. Credit is also due to Addison for excelling in all these rolls when called upon.

Dispelling a myth

There has been this opinion floating out there for a couple of weeks that the Ticats’ stellar record is overinflated because they play in the terrible East Division. Even if you take away that the East isn’t anywhere near as bad as it has been in past years, this criticism of the league’s top team still ignores something fundamental: East teams play more games against the West than they do their own division.

Hamilton is currently 6-1 against their fellow division mates, with two wins over each team, and the one blemish being a seven-point loss to the Als back in Week 4. Simple math will get you to the next conclusion, but I’ll still do the legwork for you here, too.

The Ticats are 8-2 against the West, with sweeps of B.C., Edmonton and Winnipeg, and splits with the Riders and Stamps. Those two losses came by by five points and one point, respectively. The Ticats, in total, have lost three games by a combined 13 points, and their two losses to the West were by six total points.

I know the argument about who the league’s best team is ended a few weeks ago, but there is still a segment of the CFL fandom that can’t fathom that the Ticats are that best team. East, West, it doesn’t matter. The Ticats are not the product of a crappy division; they are just that damn good.

Season sweeps

This season has seen the Ticats do a bunch of stuff they have never done before. From winning more than 12 games (now 14 and counting) in a season to winning eight games (and potentially nine) at home. You can also add winning the season series over every team in the league to that list.

With the victory over Montreal, the Ticats have now claimed the season series against the other eight teams. They beat the Als twice in three meetings, have swept Ottawa, B.C., Edmonton and Winnipeg, have won two against the Argos (with a third coming up in the season finale for both teams) and won the aggregate over both the Riders and Stamps.

The Ticats have done a lot of things that Ticats teams don’t normally do and winning the season series over every other team is just another accomplishment to add to the history books.

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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.