When a win is also a loss: 10 thoughts on Hamilton’s hard-fought victory over Ottawa

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats escaped TD Place with a 16-12 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Bo’s no good, very bad day

The return of Bo Levi Mitchell to Hamilton’s starting lineup was a bit of a mixed bag. The Ticats won, Mitchell threw for over 350 yards through the air and his first multi-touchdown game of the season, but also tossed five interceptions and suffered an injury on perhaps the single dumbest coaching decision since Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball at the one-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX.

We will start with the good. For the first time in his three games, Mitchell looked comfortable in the pocket, especially in the first half when the offensive line held up well enough to give him time to hit receivers for big gains across the middle. He also put together a very good scoring drive in the first quarter which ended with a Duke Williams touchdown catch, Hamilton’s best sustained drive of the night.

That was about all there was for the good.

For the bad, we have to start with the five interceptions, most of which were terrible throws by Mitchell. The one that could mostly be blamed on his receiver — his fifth of the game which bounced off Tim White — was a tight-window throw that Mitchell had not been successful with for most of the game.

Ottawa failed to capitalize on Mitchell’s mistakes, scoring just nine points following those five takeaways, but that still does not make any of them easier to swallow.

The five picks would be the headline story if not for the idiotic decision to have Mitchell run a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line with 13 seconds left.

Mitchell got twisted up in the scrum and appeared to seriously hurt his leg. At no other point in the game would you have your starter in to run a QB sneak, so why Mitchell was in there is something I will never understand.

Putting your $1.5-million franchise quarterback in that position is fireably stupid and while Bob Young won’t go so far as to can the entire coaching staff, he would be well within his rights to do so.

Pummelled into Crum

The Tiger-Cats did a very good job of making Dustin Crum look mortal. After taking the league by storm in his first two starts, Crum came plummeting back down to earth as Hamilton’s defence knocked the snot out of him all night.

The Tabbies had athletic linebacker Jameer Thurman spy Crum most of the game and the plan worked to near perfection. Crum took several big hits, was busted open at one point and could not take the game over as he had the last two weeks.

Despite rushing for 82 yards, this was as good as any team has done against Crum since he took over for Jeremiah Masoli. One has to wonder if the book is now out on the two-week dynamo.

Carney crush

Friday night felt like Malik Carney’s coming out party, as the third-year defensive end made life miserable for Ottawa’s offence.

Carney finished the game with two sacks, which came on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, and was part of a defensive unit that held the Redblacks out of the end zone.

Hamilton’s defensive line has been much maligned this year but they had their best game of the season on Friday, notching five of the team’s six sacks, with Carney’s two as well as two by Tre Crawford and one by Mo Diallo. Stavros Katsantonis had the other one on a well-executed safety blitz.

But Friday was Carney’s night and deservedly so.

Master of none

When the Tiger-Cats signed Kai Locksley after he was released by Edmonton, it felt like a short-term solution to a short-term problem. But if Friday is any indication, it seems the Ticats have bigger plans for Locksley.

While he made the biggest play of the game on a 75-yard screen pass touchdown to end the third quarter, he showed for the other 50-odd offensive plays that he should not be getting as much playing time as he did.

Locksley dropped two deep passes and ran a QB power that went absolutely nowhere. I think the team would be better served by having an actual receiver, not a quarterback-turned-receiver, getting these snaps.

The Ticats currently have four receivers on the practice roster, including Canadian Chris Osei-Kusi, and rookies Carlos Carriere, Jequez Ezzard and Omar Bayless, who started the season opener. Any of the four would be a better option than Locksley.

Why the Tabbies are insisting on trying to make this Locksley experiment work is beyond me but it needs to end after this week, big catch-and-run be damned.

Bailey Flint and the Cover Crew

Hamilton’s normally excellent punt coverage unit was somehow even more spectacular against Ottawa.

Bailey Flint has an argument as the league’s best punter right now, and Jeff Reinebold’s cover teams did a wonderful job of limiting the dangerous Brandin Dandridge to just 7.7 yards per punt return.

Near the end of the game, Kiondre Smith made one of the nicest special teams tackles you will see, perfectly wrapping up Dandridge to limit his return to just one yard.

The Ticats also got their own spark in the return game, with Tyreik McAllister nearly breaking one for a touchdown, only to be brought down by a hustling Kane Onyeka.

Special teams have been a hallmark of the team over the last decade and it looks as if the 2023 team will carry on that tradition.

Stay streaking

Friday’s win marked the ninth straight time the Tiger-Cats have defeated the Redblacks and the fourth in a row they have won at TD Place.

More importantly, the win also gave the Ticats the season series over Ottawa, which will likely matter later in the year when these two teams are jockeying for playoff position with each other, as well as the Montreal Alouettes.

Ottawa’s best buckets

It was Legacy Night in Ottawa, and the Redblacks opted to wear their alternative helmets, a modern take on their classic Rough Riders lids with the current notched-R logo on the side. Aside from the “R” being too large, these are really sharp and I would not be mad to see the Redblacks make their legacy lids permanent.

Pair them with a modern twist on the old Rough Riders jerseys and we are talking about a kit that could rival Winnipeg’s for best in the league.

Ain’t how you Wynn

One of the more curious roster decisions the Tiger-Cats made was placing all-star defensive tackle Dylan Wynn back on the six-game injured list after he began practicing this week.

It seemed odd that the Ticats would opt to sit Wynn once again, especially given how useful he would have been against a team with a mobile quarterback. Ottawa rushed for 144 yards, with Crum accounting for more than half that total. I have to believe that with Wynn in there, Crum’s effectiveness would have been neutralized.

Friday’s game was the defensive line’s best performance but I wonder how much better it could have been if No. 98 was back out there.

Curious case of Ja’Gared Davis

It is not often you see a trade voided but that is exactly what happened this week, as the Tiger-Cats attempted to unload defensive end Ja’Gared Davis and found a taker in the Calgary Stampeders. Unfortunately for both parties, Davis failed his physical due to what the Stamps have deemed a torn meniscus and the trade was rescinded.

That means Davis remains on the Ticats’ roster and the sixth-round pick they acquired for him reverts back to the Stamps.

Davis’ second go-around with the Tabbies has been bizarre. He showed up late to training camp, hardly participated at all during camp or in the preseason, seemed disengaged during practice once the regular season began and has failed to perform on the field during the first five games of the season.

The three-time East Division all-star was undeniably one of the fiercest pass rushers in the game during his first four seasons, recording 36 sacks in 62 games and notching a career-high 13 with the Ticats in 2019.

But since the cancelled season in 2020, Davis has not been the same player and his production has slipped considerably. In his last 32 games, Davis has just 13 sacks and none this year.

The decline for once-great players is usually rapid and it appears as if Davis showing that decline. With the attempted trade and his lacklustre play the last two-plus seasons, I would not be surprised if we have seen the last of Ja’Gared Davis on a CFL field.

Up next

The Tiger-Cats will get a small break, as they do not play again until next Saturday when the Montreal Alouettes roll into Hamilton for the second time this season.

The last time these two teams met, the Als won handily and the Ticats will be looking for a measure of revenge while also avoiding dropping the season series.

It feels safe to say it won’t be Bo Levi Mitchell under centre when the Tabbies next take the field but whether it is Taylor Powell or Matthew Shiltz, the Tiger-Cats will need to find a way to stop Cody Fajardo from feasting on them.

The Tiger-Cats could also get to .500 for the first time this season with a win. Not many games in early August come as big as the one we will see next Saturday.

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.