If there’s a clutch gene, these Ottawa Redblacks don’t have it.
In a game they had to have, both in terms of keeping R-Nation engaged and for their faint hopes of hosting a home playoff game, the Redblacks blew an 11-point lead in the final three minutes to fall by a score of 25-24 to the Montreal Alouettes in front of an announced crowd of 19,475 at TD Place.
Here are all my thoughts on the game.
1) In his sixth start, rookie quarterback Dustin Crum continued to do an excellent job of avoiding turnovers and doing exactly what he was asked to do. The game plan against the Alouettes seemed to be short quick passes, all night long. Crum consistently got the ball out of his hands quickly, making the right reads and throwing on target. There was no hesitation from the 24-year-old in where he wanted to go with the ball.
Pardon me, sir. pic.twitter.com/Jcw2PPygjE
— CFL (@CFL) August 20, 2023
Crum finished the night by completing 14 of his 19 pass attempts for 130 yards and a meaningless interception that came on the game’s final play, a Hail Mary with zeros on the clock. He also rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Dustin Crum is built different 😤
— CFL (@CFL) August 20, 2023
2) When Khari Jones was with Montreal, the offence he oversaw was exciting, creative and explosive — three adjectives you can’t use to describe anything Ottawa is doing right now.
Montreal’s defence deserves credit — it’s the second-best in points allowed — yet it feels like the offence wasted chances to put the game out of reach. There were positives: three red zone trips resulted in three touchdowns, and Ottawa ran for 173 yards on the ground, but the negatives outweighed them.
By averaging just 4.4 yards per second down play, the Redblacks converted only 35 percent of their second down opportunities, a big reason why 10 of their 14 possessions ended without points.
To say the offence was vanilla would be an understatement. Nearly every first down play was a run, followed by a throw short of the sticks on second down. A week after Crum had arguably his best game as a passer, the Redblacks didn’t attempt a single pass beyond 15 yards until the final 14 seconds of the game.
In another game that featured an opponent frequently blitzing, Jones yet again failed to dial up a single screen. Why does the offence not move the pocket with rollouts? Where were the read options that were so effective a few weeks back? Seven games into Crum’s career, it’s time to take the training wheels off.
3) Two decisions made by head coach Bob Dyce loomed large in this game. The first was made in the third quarter. Up by 14, the Redblacks were marching and had momentum after backup quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome had converted another sneak for a fresh set of downs. For whatever reason, Pigrome was kept in the game for another play, in which he proceeded to fumble. Two plays later, Montreal was in the end zone.
I realize it’s easy to critique the decision from the peanut gallery, but it just seemed like such an unnecessary risk that provided the Alouettes with the spark they needed to hang around in the game.
The other decision was choosing not to call a timeout after the Als completed a 51-yard pass to bring the ball down to Ottawa’s five-yard line with 52 seconds left in the game. Not only would the timeout have given his defence a chance to get settled, it would’ve preserved some time for his offence. Instead, Montreal was able to bleed precious time off the clock before scoring. When Dyce’s team got the ball back, they had just 14 seconds to try and get into field goal range.
It’s not the first time this season that Dyce’s game management has put the team in some less-than-ideal situations.
4) Both Devonte Williams and Jackson Bennett had phenomenal games rushing the football. Williams averaged 7.1 yards per carry and Bennett 5.8, with the duo racking up a combined 99 yards.
In addition to how they carried the ball, both were extremely effective in pass protection, frequently picking up blitzing defenders.
5) With Bralon Addison nearly healthy and Maurice Ffrench on the practice roster, it’ll be interesting to see how much longer Ottawa’s receiving corps features these same players.
Justin Hardy had a team-high five catches for 37 yards. Shaq Evans made three catches for 41 yards, with 21 of them coming after the catch. A week after putting up a season-high 157 yards, Jaelon Acklin caught three passes for 30 yards. Canadian Nate Behar made two catches for 20 yards while Siaosi Mariner and Tevaun Smith were held without a catch.
6) The return of Drew Desjarlais at left guard went a long way towards stabilizing Ottawa’s offensive line, but what most were keyed in on was the right tackle position, where 2023 first-overall pick Dontae Bull was making the first start of his career.
As far as a debut goes, ignoring his massive size, Bull wasn’t noticeable, which is precisely what you want from an offensive lineman.
The group paved the way for 173 yards on the ground, which is a heck of an accomplishment, and despite giving up three sacks, only one can be laid at their feet. The other two directly resulted from Crum’s tendency to hold onto the ball too long.
Climbing the ranks of history!
— CFL (@CFL) August 20, 2023
7) Barron Miles’ secondary isn’t just leaky, it’s a liability. Given the veterans in the group, their poor performance and frequent blown assignments are inexcusable.
Deandre Lamont struggled in coverage to the point of being benched earlier this season, yet has been moved from the secondary to the linebacking corps. The positional switch has not improved his coverage skills.
Safety Alonzo Addae continues to be exposed in the middle of the field as the last man back but he’s the best option Ottawa has with Justin Howell again on the six-game injured list. Cariel Brooks and Damon Webb alternate between making great reads and inexplicably letting receivers blow right by them.
Exactly what the doctor ordered 💪🏽
— CFL (@CFL) August 20, 2023
Miles’ defence does a lot of good things. No team in the CFL boasts more takeaways than Ottawa, and they added three more against the Alouettes.
Ottawa is officially a no fly zone ❌ ✈️
— CFL (@CFL) August 19, 2023
The group also continues to shut down opposing teams’ run game, limiting the Alouettes to just 4.4 yards per carry. But who cares about running the ball when passing is so easy?
A week after only attempting 13 passes, former Redblack Caleb Evans eviscerated Ottawa’s back end, throwing for 333 yards while rushing for another 49 yards on the ground.
Ottawa got a couple of standout individual performances from Canadians Adam Auclair and Cleyon Laing. The former made nine tackles and had a sack while the latter notched a pair of tackles, a sack, and forced and recovered a fumble.
At the end of the day, fans won’t remember the three turnovers or four sacks but what will stick with them is that the defence had an 11-point lead with under three minutes to play and collapsed, letting Montreal drive 68 and 62 yards to score a pair of touchdowns and win.
8) It’s worth mentioning that Ottawa is missing significant defensive contributors in linebackers Frankie Griffin and Douglas Coleman and defensive backs Brandin Dandridge, Money Hunter, Hakeem Bailey and Justin Howell, but injuries are what they are. Coaches need to scheme through them or players need to be brought in that are capable of holding down the fort until the injured are healthy enough to return.
9) Caleb Evans’ passionate celebration after scoring the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the game seems to have rankled some in R-Nation. To those I say, toughen up.
You can bet that Evans got heckled throughout the night by fans on the lower South Side behind Montreal’s bench. After winning in walk-off fashion against the team that chose to let him walk in free agency, it’s easy to see why he was fired up.
CALEB EVANS! FOR THE WIN!!!
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) August 20, 2023
Besides, I don’t recall anyone being upset with Nate Behar after he got into it with Calgary’s crowd after catching the winning touchdown in overtime a few weeks back. Passion is what makes sports great, let’s encourage players to show it, not to mask it.
10) Punter Richie Leone had a fantastic game until his last kick. His final numbers are still good — he averaged a net of 38 yards per punt — but a shanked punt led to an illegal kick out of bounds and a 22-yard punt wound up being just a 12-yard difference. Montreal starting from their own 38-yard line instead of deep in their own end on their final drive was a massive factor in them coming back to win.
In terms of kick coverage, rookie linebacker Lucas Cormier made two tackles, as did defensive end Kene Onyeka, who also chipped in defensively with two tackles, a sack and a knockdown.
11) It was pretty weird to see Ottawa using their white road jerseys at home. Not sure why they chose to go that route but it meant a pretty terrible colour clash with Montreal using their alternate all-reds.
Als in Red and Ottawa in white makes it look like a scrimmage
— Joel Gasson (@JGasson_21) August 19, 2023
12) You really have to feel for those members of R-Nation who continue to trek out to TD Place, only to watch their team find new ways to lose. The defeat was Ottawa’s 15th consecutive home loss to an East Division team, which is a stunning statistic. Furthermore, it extended Montreal’s win streak at TD Place to eight consecutive games. So much for home cooking.
13) Losers of four straight, Dyce’s team finds itself at the bottom of the East Division and 3.5 games back of second place, as Montreal still has a game in hand. Not only do the Redblacks face a slog to simply qualify for the post-season, their goal of hosting a home playoff game seems to be out of reach.
It’s been a strange year in that nine of Ottawa’s ten games have come down to the last three minutes. Some will argue it means their record should be better but on the flip side, it could also mean their record should be worse. At the end of the day, the Redblacks are what their record says they are: 3-7.
Over the years the Redblacks have had plenty of bad losses, but this one in particular is so disheartening to fans because Ottawa seemed to have everything in control, and a win would’ve put them right in the thick of things in the East. Instead, everything was fine until the moment it went off the rails.
The only silver lining to the loss is that of Ottawa’s remaining eight games, five are against Eastern opponents. The Redblacks now have no margin for error. With a visit to Edmonton up next, followed by a home date with the Ticats, Dyce’s squad must go 2-0 to avoid watching another season slip away.