MONTREAL — Even the best teams - and the Alouettes are in no position to make such a claim despite their 5-2 record and mantle as the defending champs - have been known to have an off night.
And the feeling existed Saturday night, almost from the opening curtain at the Rogers Centre, the star performer just wasn't quite right. On Montreal's second offensive play, Anthony Calvillo's pass for Brian Bratton, although high, tipped off the receiver's hands and was intercepted by Toronto cornerback Byron Parker, ending an almost certain scoring drive.
"Maybe that was the bad karma that started the whole thing," Bratton said following the Als' 37-22 defeat against the Argonauts, leaving the teams tied for first place in the East Division. "Look at my track record; that doesn't happen often. It surprised me, and it was a bad way to start.
"I tried to do all I could, it just went right through," Bratton added. "Maybe it was a slick ball or whatever."
Two series later, and already trailing 7-0, quarterback Anthony Calvillo, playing despite a dislocated index finger on his throwing hand, fumbled a high snap at the Montreal 37. The ball was recovered by Ronald Flemons and eventually resulted in a Cory Boyd touchdown, putting the Als in a 14-0 hole.
"It was a high snap, but I've got to catch it," Calvillo said. "It went right through my hands. I can't explain why that crap happens, but it happened and it killed us."
"The ball slipped out a couple of times," he added. "You can blame it on the finger, but that's an easy excuse. I mishandled the snap."
Calvillo was otherwise brilliant, and wasn't the reason why Montreal lost. He passed for a season-high 450 yards and three touchdowns. Normally, that's enough to win, especially when the Als generated 495 yards' net offence, 27 first downs and controlled the ball more than 32 minutes.
And don't blame the defence, either, despite the Argos' five touchdowns. Boyd, the Canadian Football League's leading rusher, was a non-factor, held to 63 yards on 17 carries.
Yes there were some big plays -Chad Owens's 63-yard opening touchdown, along with a 50-yard reception to Jeremaine Copeland on which he fumbled and might have suffered a dislocated left elbow in the process -but the defence should hold its head high.
"Boyd didn't run the ball on us," defensive-tackle Eric Wilson said. "I think we were down at times, and it felt like we were out there a lot ... second and medium, second and long, and didn't get off the field. Still, we've got an amazing defence. We just need to make the right decisions at the right time."
Instead, it was the Als' special teams - a unit that takes tremendous pride - that dropped the ball on this night, and looked foolish in the process.
There was Ryan Christian's 110-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, coming immediately following the Als' opening touchdown and killing their momentum. There was a direct snap to Bryan Crawford on a faked punt that resulted in a 42-yard gain, to the Montreal 33, and led to a Grant Shaw field goal. And there was Owens's 58-yard kickoff return, again right after the Als scored a touchdown.
One step forward, two steps back.
"We had a big part of the loss," admitted Walter Spencer, regarded as the captain and leader of Montreal's special teams. "You can usually count on our special teams to be a plus, but today we weren't disciplined and it got us.
"They did what they had to and kept us off balance," Spencer said. "Those were some gutsy calls. We have to stay in our lanes and be disciplined. We weren't disciplined and they took advantage of it."
"They pulled everything," added Dahrran Diedrick. "They used all their tricks and gadgets, and it worked."
And perhaps that, more than anything, is most disconcerting.
A faked punt ... a halfback option; Boyd passing to quarterback Cleo Lemon ... the Argos showed imagination and flair. The Als? Yeah, once, on a third-down gamble. It resulted in a 49-yard touchdown pass from Calvillo to S.J. Green, the Argos totally asleep on the play.
Head coach Marc Trestman is considered a genius, and his offensive co-ordinator, Scott Milanovich, came this close to being named Toronto's coach. Open things up occasionally and make things exciting. Sure, the Als seemingly had lousy field position all night, which didn't help. And neither did the loss of kick-returner Tim Maypray, one of the team's most exciting players, to an injury.
The Argos aren't a great team, but they make plays and Jim Barker, their coach, has them believing they can play with anyone. The Als, meanwhile, are no longer at a different level. This team won't cruise to a 15-3 record like they did a year ago.
Toronto and Montreal conclude the regular season with back-to-back games against each other - games that now potentially could take on more significant meaning.
"We know they think they can, but we've been there before," Wilson said. "If they deal with success like we do, it'll be a battle in weeks 17 and 18."
Stay tuned. Things now might get interesting.
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