CFL reaches new level of excitement
Week 6 games had fans of three-down football on the edge of their seats
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WINNIPEG — If the CFL has taught us anything over its long history, it’s that a lot can be packed into a single weekend. It’s been an eventful first six weeks of the 2022 season, a campaign already filled with high-scoring affairs and tight games.
Last week took things to a new level. Perhaps there’s some recency bias at play here, but I can’t remember a more exciting weekend of three-down football. Just consider in the four games played, all were decided by a single score and went down to the final minutes, with two of those games won by two points or fewer.
The Montreal Alouettes (1-4) hit a new low, falling to the Edmonton Elks (2-4), 32-31, despite holding a 31-18 fourth-quarter lead. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers kept their record unblemished, improving to a perfect 6-0 with a 26-19 victory over the Calgary Stampeders (4-1), who suffered their first loss.
Wynton McManis returned a Cody Fajardo interception 50 yards for a touchdown in the final minutes to seal a 30-24 victory for the Toronto Argonauts (2-2) over the Saskatchewan Roughriders (4-2) in the annual Touchdown Atlantic game in Wolfville, N.S. Finally, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1-4) earned their first triumph of the season, edging the struggling Ottawa Redblacks, 25-23, to keep their East Division rival winless through five weeks, at 0-5.
There’s plenty more to break down from Week 6, so let’s get into it with the latest edition of CFL Rundown.
1) While it was only the first game for the Alouettes after firing head coach Khari Jones and defensive co-ordinator Barron Miles, it was a pretty embarrassing debut for the GM Danny Maciocia, who has taken over bench boss duties. If you missed it, Jones was quickly scooped up by Hamilton, brought on as a football operations consultant in a move that Tiger-Cats HC Orlondo Steinauer called a no-brainer. Pretty smart pickup, too, as Hamilton and Montreal meet three times this season.
2) For anyone paying attention, Maciocia was always planning to take over from Jones, and he was going to do so as soon as he could. What seemed less predictable was that Maciocia has already stated that he won’t be on the sidelines next season and will hire the next voice of the locker room after this year.
3) That got me thinking about Bombers HC Mike O’Shea and what the interest might be in making a pitch, either in Montreal or any other team wanting to build a winning culture. O’Shea doesn’t have a contract for next season, and while it’s likely he returns to Winnipeg, perhaps there’s an offer out there he might not be able to resist. At this point, I could think of at least a few teams that could use him and have the cash to make a real push.
4) I spoke to Bombers president and CEO Wade Miller on Wednesday about O’Shea’s expiring contract and he seemed focused on doing whatever needs to be done to bring him back. What I found interesting, though not surprising, is that O’Shea has no interest in negotiating a new deal during the season and will talk an extension once the year is over. It was the same thing the last time O’Shea needed a new deal, which came after he led the Bombers to a Grey Cup in 2019. The Bombers made more than $6 million in 2021, so you know they’ve got some pennies to spend.
5) The Stampeders gave Winnipeg everything they had this week, only to fall short down the stretch. QB Bo Levi Mitchell didn’t have his usual stat line, but that’s because his receivers couldn’t seem to catch the ball. There were several drops in this one, including Kamar Jorden’s bobble in the end zone that led to a game-sealing interception by Demerio Houston. The Stamps will push for top spot in the West.
6) I haven’t witnessed every game this season, but I’d put money on Winnipeg’s crowd last Friday being the wildest of the year. It felt like a playoff game, with nearly 30,000 fans yelling in the thick heat. I watch and listen to the TSN feed and usually can hear it clearly. That wasn’t the case on Friday, and I finally gave up trying.
7) Craig Dickenson sure loves to show his respect for players, as witnessed last week following his defence of the gruesome tackle and ensuing antics from defensive lineman Garrett Marino on Redblacks QB Jeremiah Masoli. But you have to wonder how much his players respect him back. Because for a second straight week, the Riders have been the laughingstock of the league. This week, it was receiver Duke Williams seen live on TV prior to the Touchdown Atlantic game throwing his helmet in violent fashion at Argonauts DB Shaq Richardson. But instead of ejecting Williams from the game — after all, eliminating a star player prior to a showcase game on the east coast would have put a black eye on the event — he was allowed to play. Only to get a one-game suspension handed his way afterwards (Richardson was handed a maximum fine for his role in the incident).
8) Williams isn’t new to questionable behaviour. He was also accused by Argonauts head coach Ryan Dinwiddie of spitting twice on Richardson. You might recall similar accusations were made against the Roughriders receiver by DE Shawn Lemon in last year’s West semi-final. Ask other teams around the league and they each have a story about Williams.
9) The spitting claim is particularly troubling given the Roughriders are currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. At last blush, while final numbers weren’t yet determined, the team said a player from each position group, including at QB, was infected. Saskatchewan has had to cancel its practices this week and it appears the home game against Toronto this Saturday will be postponed.
10) The main argument from the Riders for postponing the game is because they’ll only have a single practice before the game, assuming they can hit the field Thursday. That’s bologna, as lots of teams have had to play on short weeks and with limited practice time. I see this more as an attempt to buy time for Fajardo, who is dealing with a knee injury that got worse last week.
11) I see Fajardo as Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols. He’s overly sensitive to criticism, isn’t nearly as dynamic as top-level QBs in the league and is defended by his win-loss record. He’s also had injury troubles that don’t appear to be easing up. I just don’t see the Roughriders winning the Grey Cup with Fajardo at the helm. He is a good guy, like Nichols, and I’d happily eat crow if I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am.
12) Williams’ antics aside, Touchdown Atlantic looked and felt like a success. It doesn’t seem we’re getting any closer to an expansion team east of Montreal. In an interview with 3downnation, Halifax mayor Mike Savage said there was “no political appetite” to publicly fund a stadium. Without a stadium, there’s no team. The Regina Leader-Post then reported that Schooner Sports and Entertainment, the group that has been spearheading the efforts to land an expansion team in Halifax, decided not to show up at the game because the future looked bleak. Not sure what Randy Ambrosie’s legacy is going to be, but a 10th CFL team doesn’t seem to be it.
13) Masoli had successful surgery on his injured leg last Thursday, with a projected healing time of 10-12 weeks. That means Masoli could be back by season’s end, though it will be interesting where Ottawa is in the standings as they move forward without their prime pivot. Masoli also called out Marino, and the CFLPA, for writing a “hollow” statement together, which Masoli said includes a “ridiculous” lie about Marino making efforts to get a hold of him and apologize.
14) Nick Arbuckle was acquired by Ottawa in a trade with Edmonton last week and he’ll back up Caleb Evans against the Alouettes. But don’t be surprised if he draws in at the first sign of Evans struggling. Ottawa isn’t exactly in the position to give out long leashes to unproven QBs.
15) I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure if Greg Ellingson would be enough to make up for the loss of Kenny Lawler. Boy was I wrong. Ellingson, who turns 34 later this year, has been an absolute stud for Winnipeg and currently leads the CFL with 518 receiving yards. With newcomers Dalton Schoen and Carlton Agudosi proving to be more than quality options, the loss of Lawler and Darvin Adams barely registers now.
16) Andrew Harris made a bit of history this week, edging out Hall of Fame receiver Milt Stegall (15,209) for fourth place on the CFL’s all-time leaders in yards from scrimmage. The Winnipeg native needed just 46 yards, finishing with 64.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.