It's time for Redblacks to get past song and dance and just win
There’s really no way to put lipstick on a pig and put a positive spin on what the Ottawa Redblacks are doing on the football field right now.
You can crank up that song and dance about having a locker room full of good football players who play with great effort, but you can’t tap dance around the fact that the 2019 Ottawa Redblacks are right now as bad performance-wise as they’ve been since 2014, their first season in the CFL (when they finished with a 2-16 record).
With their eighth loss in their last nine games — a 46-17 shellacking at the hands of the East Division cellar-dwelling Toronto Argos Saturday at TD Place — the Redblacks managed to hit a new low. Toronto put the hammer down and outscored the home team 21-1 in the fourth quarter and kept its ever-so-slim playoff hopes alive. The Redblacks are now looking at a daunting task of probably having to win at least six of their remaining seven games to make the playoffs.
The good: Four of those remaining games are against Toronto and B.C., statistically the two worst teams in the league. The bad: Ottawa hasn’t shown anything that makes you believe they’re capable of playing near-flawless football for such a long period of time.
Moments after Saturday’s game — in which the Redblacks started strong with an interception by its defence and a touchdown pass by Jonathon Jennings to Brad Sinopoli — Redblacks coach Rick Campbell said: “I don’t know quite what to say. I’m definitely proud of this franchise and this city. A lot of the people in that locker room are really good people, but that’s not the name of the game — it’s winning and we’re here to win. We have a lot of solid people working their butts off and we’re not getting the results. It’s disappointing that we’re not getting it done — I love the city, I love the fans and I love our players. We have to keep understanding that there are some positive things — I don’t say that to sugarcoat it. You have to build around the things that are good so you can win some games.”
In his sixth year as coach of the Redblacks, Campbell has taken the franchise to the Grey Cup game three of the past four years. What’s happening now has to be not only puzzling him, it has to eating at him as he looks for something more than band-aid solutions.
Said Campbell: “I’m quite an emotional guy and if you talked to me at halftime, I would have said: ‘Hey, we’re showing signs of competing.’ I had a great feeling coming out of the locker room. My outlook changed quite drastically in a matter of 30 minutes of football. In the first half, our offence and (Jennings) were giving us a chance to win the game. I thought we were all right. It got away for us. If we play like we did in the first half, we can compete with people and win some games – but we’re going to have to find a way to do it for 60 minutes.
“No one feels sorry in pro sports when things aren’t going your way. We’re going to have to tee it up again in six days in Vancouver.”
Players and coaches don’t really talk about “must-win” games. Each time out on the field, they say, you have to have a must-win attitude. They also don’t like to look ahead — the most important game is always the next game. Since they don’t want to look beyond Friday’s game in Vancouver, I’ll do it for them. The following two weeks, Ottawa hosts B.C., then Edmonton. After a bye week, Ottawa travels to Toronto, Hamilton, then Toronto again before finishing the regular season at home to Montreal. Statistically, they’ve got the easiest remaining schedule in the CFL. But when you’re talking about the 2019 Redblacks, you can throw probabilities out the window.
“The playoffs are in my head, but I’m just trying to win a football game,” said Redblacks linebacker Avery Williams. “We have to fix whatever we need to fix … and win. There’s no pressure, this is what we get paid to do. There are too many mistakes — on offence and defence. It shouldn’t be this hard, we’re making it hard on ourselves. The thing about football is you’re going to win with big plays and you’re going to win with turnovers. They win the big play margin, they win the turnover margin — they’re going to win.”
Asked about how the team feels in the wake of Saturday’s disappointment, defensive back Chris Randle said: “We have to soak it in and be uncomfortable with the feeling.”
Can this team somehow regroup and be strong offensively, defensively and on special teams at the same time? Can they win six more games and scratch out a playoff berth — possibly ahead of a potential crossover by the Edmonton Eskimos?
“It’s tough, but the good thing is it’s been done before,” said Redblacks running back Mossis Madu. “We have the pieces in our locker room, we have the fight. It starts with one win. It’s obvious being 3v8 that we have to play our best ball to win a game, we can’t afford to make dumb mistakes.”
It’s back to the drawing board as the Redblacks return to the football field for practices Monday-Wednesday before leaving for Vancouver late Wednesday afternoon.
THE REPORT CARD
There was a noticeable improvement in the first half, establishing early momentum with a touchdown on its first drive. Starting QB Jonathon Jennings completed 33-of-42 passes, many of them safe choices, for 327 yards. In his one shot at pushing the ball long, he overthrew a wide-open Dominique Rhymes. There wasn’t much of a run game — starting running back Mossis Madu had just six carries for 21 yards. Too many turnovers — an interception and three fumbles — were killers.
The defence was pretty good until the Argos put up 21 points in the fourth quarter. Toronto QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson wound up with 26 completions for 411 yards passing. Running back James Wilder scored three touchdowns, two on passes and another on the ground. Gump Hayes and George Uko both had interceptions, Uko also had a fumble recovery.
Special Teams C
Not the team’s best effort. Kicker Lewis Ward, who recently broke his streak of 69 straight field goals, missed another — a long 52-yarder. What would have been a 99-yard punt return for a touchdown by Stefan Logan was called back because of a penalty (actually two of them on the same play).
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