Plenty of people across the country engaged in Canada Day revelry that left them feeling sick in the morning but standing before the media on Friday night, Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ quarterback Dane Evans already looked like he wanted to throw up.
A few adult beverages may make you nauseous but nothing drains the colour from your face faster than coughing up the game-clinching turnover in an upset loss at home to cap a winless start to the season.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been 0-4 in my life in any sport,” a shell-shocked Evans said at the podium. “I have no clue what’s going on. I’ve got to be better.”
The 2022 season was supposed to be the 28-year-old quarterback’s coming-out party. After two promising campaigns as part of a one-two punch with Jeremiah Masoli, he was now the undisputed starter with the big-money contract and a crew of weapons around him to devastate opponents.
Instead, the first four weeks of the year have been a parade of miseries. Four straight losses, a couple of squandered second-half leads at home and a string of turnovers. The Canada Day matchup featured three of them from Evans, two interceptions and the game-clinching fumble, as Hamilton fell 29-25 to the Edmonton Elks.
As has become a common refrain the last few weeks, both interceptions were deflected by Ticat receivers, leaving Evans struggling for answers.
“It’s just like a hitter in a slump, man. Those are routine plays when they happen. I’ve never seen that happen more than it’s been happening lately and I don’t even know how to describe it,” he explained post-game, searching for answers.
“Their hands are there, it’s a decent throw, they’re ready, they’re trying to run and it’s just not coming up for us. I have no clue. I don’t even know how to describe it.”
Head coach Orlondo Steinauer was equally flummoxed but stressed that his team needs more offensive consistency, especially from their quarterback.
“We’ve got that bug right now. That’s what it is,” he said. “It’s a tough position to play and sometimes the DBs make great breaks, sometimes we make bad reads but losing the turnover battle, you’re not going to win that way.”
Right now, the turnover numbers are startling. While Evans has thrown for 1,081 yards and five touchdowns to start the year, he’s been guilty of eight interceptions and lost four fumbles thus far. Each was a pivotal play in a Ticats’ loss, but none more so than the one he committed with 1:47 remaining on Friday.
A scrambling Evans had the pigskin punched from his arms by safety Scott Hutter and corner Jalen Collins scooped it up for the winning score. After failing to create a successful response, a clearly emotional Evans had to be consoled on the sidelines by Elks’ backup quarterback Nick Arbuckle — who lost his own starting job last week after posting a 2:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio — while the rest of the two squads shook hands.
“I know Dane inside and out. I know that there’s nobody that’s going to take it any harder, so if you saw him upset, I would expect that,” Steinauer said. “That’s the competitor that he is. He’s struggling a little bit right now. It’s a collective thing and we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to fix it.”
Evans could offer no explanation for the inopportune fumble, other than the fact that Hutter made a good play when he felt he had the ball secure. He did have a message to his teammates, however.
“I want to apologize to all the guys, man. I let ’em down,” Evans said. “I put both home losses on me, even if that’s fair or not, but I’m the one that touches the ball every play so I’ve got to take care of it. I’ve just got to be better.”
It’s difficult to quantify which of the two home losses hurt worse, giving up a 24-point lead to the Stampeders in Week 2 or losing late to an Elks’ team many pegged as the worst in the CFL. Either way, Hamilton faces serious questions as they enter their first bye week and only one answer will solve their issues.
“To win and not turn the ball over,” Evans told reporters flatly. “That’s all I know how to do. That’s the only way, in my mind, I can see to not be in this situation anymore, is to win and secure the ball.”
What remains to be seen is whether he will get the chance to make that adjustment himself. While Hamilton bet the house on Evans as the face of the franchise, his head coach would not rule out a potential switch to backup Matthew Shiltz.
“We don’t have a win right now,” Steinauer said. “We’ll be looking at every position at this time.”