Montreal Alouettes dominate Blue Bombers to start 2024 season (& seven other thoughts)

Photo: Neil Noonan/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Montreal Alouettes traveled to Winnipeg to prove that last year’s Grey Cup win didn’t happen by accident and did so with a convincing 27-12 victory to open the 2024 CFL season. Here are my thoughts on the game.

Sloppy start

It was expected, but both teams struggled offensively to start the game. Cody Fajardo played less than a quarter in the preseason, while Zach Collaros didn’t play even a single snap. After an exchange of punts, Fajardo committed his first big mistake with an interception that only cost the team three points.

The veteran quarterback threw for only 48 yards in the first half but finished the game 20-for-28 for 254 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception as he and Tyson Philpot showed the same chemistry that led to last season’s Grey Cup-winning touchdown.

Montreal rarely asks Fajardo to make flashy plays, relying heavily on their defence and special teams. When he protects the ball and hits a couple of deep shots, the Alouettes have a good chance of winning.

The Canadian kid show

One of the biggest questions this offseason was who was going to replace Austin Mack, who was named a CFL all-star as a rookie last season before departing for the Atlanta Falcons.

Though newcomer Charleston Rambo started in Mack’s old spot at boundary wide receiver, Tyson Philpot answered first with the best performance of his career. The native of Delta, B.C. finished the night with 10 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns. His first was a great demonstration of his agility as he did a great spin move to fall in the end zone. His second came from a flea flicker where he got behind Winnipeg’s entire defence.

Now in his third season, the former first-round pick appears to have found another gear, which is bad news for opposing defences.

“Special” teams

The Alouettes will need strong performances from their special teams in order to succeed in 2024 and they’re off to a good start as Byron Archambault’s unit was dominant.

It started with a good return from James Letcher Jr. that gave the Als good positioning on their second drive. Then, Tyrice Beverette forced a fumble from rookie Myron Mitchell, which gave Montreal possession at Winnipeg’s 14-yard line to set-up their first touchdown of the season.

Speaking of Mitchell, he had a lot of trouble reading punter Joseph Zema. The Australian again showed why he’s one of the best punters in the CFL as his kicks appeared accurate yet unpredictable, as well. On most of the kicks, Mitchell had to pick up the ball after it had bounced, limiting his options and speed.

Montreal’s kick coverage was on point as well. Hats off to Archambault, who had his players prepared. Cre’von Leblanc led the way with three special teams tackles.

“Special” defence

Montreal’s defence was the main reason they were able to win the Grey Cup last year. Noel Thorpe’s unit will be dangerous again this season and they showed why on Thursday night, allowing only one touchdown to the home team once the game was already in hand.

Shawn Lemon made his presence felt with one sack and five tackles. Darnell Sankey also had five tackles and forced a fumble, while Dionté Ruffin knocked down a would-be touchdown by Dalton Schoen. Overall, the defence had an interception, one fumble recovery, and two sacks.

A costly win

Thursday’s game was a triumph for the Alouettes, though the game will be bittersweet as the team lost two key players.

Tyler Snead and Reggie Stubblefield couldn’t finish the game and both injuries seemed serious. Snead was playing a great game, making four catches for 62 yards, when he got tackled by Tyrell Ford. He left the game with a foot injury and was reportedly seen wearing a walking boot later.

The most worrying injury was Stubblefield’s. He went down without any contact as he tried to change direction, but his knee didn’t follow. He was carted off, and it seems he will be out for an extended period of time. Ironically, he tackled quarterback Chris Streveler with questionable technique during the previous play, grabbing his ankle and twisting it, which caused Streveler to complain to the official.

His backup, Bryce Cosby, was tested and did his part. He had an outstanding training camp and won a spot on the roster. He might be the next man up in Stubblefield’s absence.

Some questions

Last year, the Als had issues running the ball as the offensive line couldn’t create holes big enough for William Stanback. Against Winnipeg, it was the same story with Walter Fletcher as he finished the night with 12 carries for 36 yards. It put a lot of pressure on Fajardo, who had to throw the ball more often.

Joshua Donovan had the first start of his career and Willie Jefferson welcomed him to the CFL accordingly. The rookie couldn’t stop him and his teammates and took a holding penalty that negated a long pass to Snead. It will be interesting to follow his progression as incumbent starter Jamar McGloster is on the six-game injured list.

What’s next?

The Alouettes (1-0) will visit the Edmonton Elks (0-0) on June 14 where they will try to start the season 2-0 for a second consecutive year.

Pablo is a CFL and Alouettes analyst based in Montreal.