There have been a lot of heartbreaking losses in the history of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats franchise, from gut-wrenching Grey Cup defeats to playoff failures and everything in between.
Saturday night’s epic collapse that saw the Ticats squander a 21-point halftime lead to lose 33-30 in overtime to the Calgary Stampeders might not rank amongst the worst in club history. It was still a stinging loss for a team that seemed to have victory well within their grasp.
Hamilton could not have had a better start to the game, jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter on the arm of Dane Evans. They pushed that lead to 24 in the second quarter after a Tim White touchdown and, despite allowing a Stamps’ drive to end in a field goal before the half, the hometown team was in full control up by three scores at the break.
That is when things started to fall apart. Two consecutive drives inside Calgary’s 10 in the third quarter ended with turnovers, the first a Dane Evans interception on a throw he never should have made and the second a turnover-on-downs on a third-and-two quarterback sneak by Matthew Shiltz.
The Ticats would muster just six points in the entire second half and watched as Calgary went up and down the field, scoring 33 of the game’s final 39 points.
When the story of the 2022 Hamilton Tiger-Cats is written, this game will be pointed to as the one that got away.
Here are some more thoughts.
Dane Evans’ very good, very bad game
For years, Tiger-Cats fans were apoplectic whenever Jeremiah Masoli would throw one of his head-scratching “what were you thinking” interceptions. He was usually good for one of those a game and many of the team’s faithful were relieved when Dane Evans took over this season, hoping those plays were a thing of the past.
That turns out not to be the case.
Evans’ stat line from Saturday’s game was superb, 36-of-51 for 425 yards and three touchdowns. Those are numbers any team would be thrilled to get from their quarterback. They don’t tell the whole story though, because no matter how many yards or touchdowns the former University of Tulsa star throws for, he is simply turning the ball over too much.
Against the Saskatchewan Roughriders a week ago, Evans had two interceptions and two lost fumbles. Against the Stampeders on Saturday night, he had two interceptions and two fumbles again, this time losing one.
His turnovers are also proving to be Masoli-like in their back-breaking-ness. His first interception came with the Ticats inside Calgary’s 10-yard line on a throw to a blanketed Bralon Addison in the end zone. I truly do not understand what Evans was thinking making that throw in that situation.
His second pick came on the game’s final play, a high pass that hit running back Sean Thomas-Erlington in the hands and was only about 50 percent Evans’ fault.
The fumbles, however, are truly starting to become a problem. Four fumbles, three of them lost, in the first two games is unacceptable. His first fumble against the Stamps, which he recovered, took the Ticats out of field goal range, while his second was ripped out of his hands on a quarterback sneak and returned for a Calgary touchdown.
All told, Evans took 10 points off the board for the Ticats and gave the Stamps seven of their own. A 17-point swing in a game you lose by three in overtime is not something you can ignore.
We can be wowed by the massive yardage totals, as we were with Masoli for all those years, but at the end of the day, the Ticats are not going to win many games if their franchise quarterback continues to turn the ball over with the frequency that Evans has so far this season.
Tim White shows up to the party
When we did our fearless predictions for the 2022 CFL season, I picked Tiger-Cats receiver Tim White as my breakout player for the year. White had a sneaky good season in 2021, leading the Ticats in receiving yards and finishing sixth league-wide. With Brandon Banks off to Toronto, there was a void to be filled as Bralon Addison’s running mate and I thought White would be that guy.
It was a rough Week 1 for the second-year player, but after a couple of drops early against the Stampeders, the speedster out of Arizona State University turned it on the rest of the way.
White was darn near unstoppable for about three-quarters of Saturday’s game, hauling in a game-high 11 catches on 14 targets for 131 yards and one touchdown. He was doing it all, making defenders miss to the tune of 71 yards after the catch, picking up tough yards across the middle on second down, and showing off his world-class speed.
There are plenty of players to point fingers at for not doing their part to thwart this collapse, but Tim White is not one of them.
Ticats’ kicker Michael Domagala has been mostly good so far this season, but he still struggles with his consistency. In Week 1 against the Riders, it was a missed field goal to end the first half. Against the Stamps, he missed an extra point.
When the team opted to go with the second-year man out of Carleton University, many wondered if it was the right move. For the most part, he has been very good and his late field goal to give the team a late lead after they stalled for the entire second half was clutch.
Nonetheless, he still needs to become more reliable on the gimme kicks before fans will truly feel comfortable when the St. Catharines native takes the field.
Bralon Addison, walking weapon
Any concerns about Bralon Addison returning to form after an injury-ravaged 2021 should be gone. He was probably the team’s most consistent player in the loss to Saskatchewan in Week 1 and he was back to his Swiss-Army-knife self against Calgary.
Addison finished the game with eight catches on 10 targets for 96 yards and added value to the Ticats’ under-utilized run game, picking up 11 yards on two carries.
While some will say Addison is becoming Hamilton’s version of the San Francisco 49ers’ do-everything superstar Deebo Samuel, it is more like Deebo is the Niners’ version of Addison. He did a lot of this back in his breakout 2019 season with the Ticats.
If Addison can consistently be this type of multi-faceted weapon, the Ticats’ offence will continue to hum.
No killer instinct
For the second straight week, the Ticats’ defence was mostly excellent but wilted down the stretch.
In last week’s loss to Saskatchewan, Hamilton forced the Riders into five field goals in the game’s first 45 minutes before giving up two touchdowns late.
This week, the Ticats’ defence forced just one punt on the Stamps’ final six drives after Hamilton linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox intercepted Bo Levi Mitchell midway through the third quarter.
Calgary’s final six offensive drives of regulation were a Bo Levi Mitchell touchdown pass to receiver Luther Hakunavanhu, a Rene Paredes field goal, a Reggie Begelton touchdown catch, a rare punt, and another Paredes field goal as time expired to send the game to overtime.
Hamilton’s defence is veteran-laden and considered one of the best in the league, but in back-to-back weeks it has struggled to finish games. This continues a trend from a year ago where the defence gave up leads late in games, most notably in the Grey Cup loss to Winnipeg when Hamilton coughed up a 12-point fourth-quarter lead.
One of the biggest areas of concern for the Tiger-Cats after Week 1 was their shoddy offensive line. The team made changes entering Week 2 due to injury and the results were mostly good.
Dane Evans was sacked just once, on a play where the quarterback was mostly to blame for his own demise. While the game plan called for a lot of quick hitters — a smart decision given the results of last week — when Evans was asked to throw deep, he mostly had time to do so.
American rookie left tackle Tyrone Riley only had his name called once on the broadcast when he fell on Evans’ fumble on the aforementioned sack, while right guard Travis Vornkahl had a nice block on a run by Papi White and Jesse Gibbon looked fine starting at centre.
Maybe this five-man unit isn’t Hamilton’s long-term solution but they looked worlds better than the one the team trotted out against the Riders a week before.
Wrong calls, wrong time
While Hamilton’s play-calling was mostly great, using short passes to get Evans in a groove early, there were some decisions that left me scratching my head.
On more than one occasion, the Ticats opened with quarterback sneaks on second or third-and-two. Typically we see those calls with one yard to gain or less, but Hamilton chose to use them in these situations and one led to a turnover on downs inside Calgary’s 10-yard line.
Hamilton also didn’t challenge the strip fumble by Dane Evans that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Calgary defensive back Titus Wall. It sure looked like Evans’ forward momentum had been stopped and although it still would have been Calgary’s ball — Evans was clearly short of the line of gain — turning the touchdown into just a turnover could have halted the momentum Calgary had established by that point.
I have always felt that the Ticats had a good coaching staff but I am starting to wonder if maybe they are not as good as I had previously thought.
Move the Hall game to the preseason
Recognizing and celebrating the stars of the past is important, which is why the annual Canadian Football Hall of Fame game needs to be moved from a random regular season Tiger-Cats game into its own special event.
The National Football League stages its Hall of Fame festivities during the first preseason game of each year and plays it in Canton, Ohio, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is an affair filled with pomp and circumstance, and it is done as the unofficial kickoff to the new season.
They place it in the preseason because the game broadcast spends more time discussing the greats of the past and those enshrined that season than they do the play on the field. And because it is done in the preseason, no one cares that the game itself is not the focal point.
TSN has developed a terrible habit of having celebrities and special guests interviewed in the booth over the last few years. It reached its nadir during the 2019 Grey Cup when TSN basically ruined an entire quarter of the game by having country singer Keith Urban, who was the halftime act that year, in the booth.
Fans have been critical of it ever since, but Canada’s sports leader has seemingly doubled down since then. If you told me they have kept doing them out of spite, I would be easily convinced.
Saturday’s game featured in-game interviews with almost every member of the two Hall of Fame classes, including a pre-taped interview with coaching legend Marv Levy. There is no reason whatsoever why a pre-taped segment like that needs to air during a game.
But if you want to avoid all of this criticism, I have an easy solution: make Hamilton’s home preseason game every year the Hall of Fame game. Yes, that is copying the NFL model, but it might get some extra viewers on a preseason game and it will also not anger those who are watching when you pitch to a sideline interview with a guy who played in the 1960s most casual fans don’t know.
The history of the game is important, and it is something I truly believe should be showcased, so younger generations of fans can learn of the greats from a bygone era. Using a regular-season telecast and taking away attention from the current players isn’t the way to go about it.
The loss to the Riders in Week 1 was bad, but this one against the Stamps is even more demoralizing. Coming up next for the black and gold is a Grey Cup rematch at IG Field with the two-time defending champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Bombers have escaped their first two games by the skin of their teeth, winning twice over the Ottawa Redblacks by less than a score in each contest. The Bombers have not looked like the team that ran roughshod over the league in 2021 but they have done just enough to get the win in their first two games.
Winnipeg has also been deadly at home, winning their last eight games and 20 of their last 21 at IG Field. Their lone loss in Winnipeg since September of 2018 was a 33-13 thrashing by… the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in September of 2019.
These two teams are not the same two that met on that September night almost three years ago. Winnipeg has become a juggernaut while the Ticats have a sputtered, barely sporting an over-.500 record since the start of the 2021 season.
The Tabbies had Grey Cup dreams when the season began, but a loss to the Bombers and an 0-3 start to the season would put them in a gigantic hole before the season has really gotten underway.
No game this early in the season is a must-win but after losing the way they did to the Stampeders on Saturday night, the Tiger-Cats need to right the ship before it is too late.