A familiar pattern is emerging through two weeks of the CFL schedule.
While many pundits predicted a greater level of parity across the league — based on a seemingly much-improved East Division — it’s been all about the West so far.
The West is 5-0 against the East. Only the Toronto Argonauts have a victory, and that came against a divisional opponent. Montreal Alouettes (0-2) kicker David Côté missed a 21-yard field goal in the dying seconds to seal a 20-19 win for the Argonauts (1-0) at BMO Field last Thursday night.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2-0) met the Ottawa Redblacks (0-2) for a second straight week, earning a 19-12 victory at TD Place Friday night.
The Calgary Stampeders (2-0) needed every second and more Saturday to knock off the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-2), with a Rene Parades 35-yard field goal and a Jameer Thurman interception capping off a 33-30 overtime triumph at Tim Hortons Field.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders (2-0) found their footing in the fourth quarter in the final game of the weekend, scoring two touchdowns en route to a 26-16 win over the Edmonton Elks (0-2) at Commonwealth Stadium.
I always viewed the notion that the East was catching up to the West this year as a silly narrative built out of what happened in free agency. There’s still plenty of time, of course, for that to change, but the early signs show much is still the same.
Now, let’s get into the latest edition of CFL Rundown, where we take a look back at the week that was in the three-down loop.
1 It was definitely weird to see Andrew Harris donning Argos blue, in what was a stellar debut for No. 33, which included 18 carries for 87 yards and three catches for 23 more. Those are vintage Harris numbers, but the question remains: how long can he continue? The 35-year-old left the game late in the fourth quarter owing to tightness in his hamstring and was limited in his return to practice Tuesday.
2 You have to feel for Côté on the final kick, as there’s really no excuse for missing from that distance, especially given how he was a perfect 4-for-4 leading up to that point. Montreal head coach Khari Jones is already on the hot seat and starting 0-2, while having to now play the Roughriders in back-to-back games, will only add to an already pressure-filled season for the Alouettes bench boss.
3 Montreal was still awarded a single point as Côté’s kick sailed through the end zone. That sparked a conversation over the rules around a rouge, and the chance it could one day decide a tied game. The easy fix? Either eliminate rouge points in the final three minutes of a game or only allow a single so long as the team has an opportunity to return the ball out of the end zone.
4 It seemed a bit premature that Jones opted to pull Vernon Adams Jr. for Trevor Harris minutes into the second quarter, even if Adams was generating very little, going just 2-for-4 passing for 14 yards and getting sacked twice in four drives. The score at the time was only 4-3 Toronto. Harris did play well down the stretch and put his team in position to win. Jones would have had an interesting QB decision to make, had it not been made for him, with Adams contracting COVID-19 and about to miss this week. Reports are already surfacing that Harris is going to be the starter beyond this week.
5 The Als lost both their games by a combined four points. Adding insult to literal injury, Montreal will be without receiver Jake Wieneke and linebacker Chris Ackie against Saskatchewan today. They’re already without stud running back William Stanback, who recently underwent ankle surgery.
6 Seriously, go check out Alouettes owner Gary Stern on Twitter. You’re welcome.
7 Ottawa needed to beat Winnipeg at least once over these first two games, and while they came close in both it just wasn’t enough. While the Redblacks look like a better team — let’s call it the Jeremiah Masoli effect — they seemed to trip over themselves with questionable play-calling and a lack of discipline. Add in their struggles to score touchdowns — with just one in eight quarters — and the early signs are as troubling as they are promising.
8 Deatrick Nichols is proving to be among the best defensive backs in the CFL, in just his second year in the league. He was an all-star as a rookie, and his play against a talented Redblacks offence is impossible to ignore. He made two crucial fourth-quarter knockdowns in the end zone, as well as recovering a fumble, playing as crucial role in the Bombers win.
9 The Bombers were dealt a significant blow to their offensive line, as centre Michael Couture suffered an arm injury just before halftime. Couture is expected to be out for a while, with Chris Kolankowski taking over in the meantime. Winnipeg has to be on the lookout for more O-line depth, and the search begins immediately.
10 Stampeders QB Bo Levi Mitchell transformed into his former self in the final two quarters in a narrow win over the Tabbies. Mitchell looked awful through the first 30 minutes before coming alive in the second half, completing 19-of-27 passes for 224 yards (he finished with 313) and two touchdowns, along with an interception. Mitchell took a shot at his "haters" after the game, before claiming that "it’s nice to be back." Bold words, and ones the Stampeders decided to scrub from their website and social media posts. Hmmm.
11 The Stamps defence also played a pivotal role in coming back down 24-3 at the break, notably the play of first-year DB Titus Wall. Wall had an interception in the third quarter and a forced fumble — he literally ripped the ball out of Dane Evans’ hands on a QB sneak — that he returned 45 yards to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Oh, and he’s just 23.
12 Evans was lights out in this one, with 425 yards through the air on 36-of-51 passing, including three touchdowns and two interceptions. You don’t lose many games with that kind of yardage, but you also have to protect the ball, with turnovers ultimately costing Hamilton the game.
13 I had my doubts (and still do) over the Elks’ signing of receiver Kenny Lawler to a $300,000 contract. But it’s easier to justify after seeing the kind of catch he made on Edmonton’s only TD.
14 Winnipeg wasn’t the only club to lose an impactful member of its O-line. Riders veteran centre Dan Clark broke his leg and shifted his ankle, undergoing successful surgery on his fibula Sunday. Clark is expected to miss the entire season, with fellow Canadian Logan Bandy his current replacement.
15 Keep an eye on Riders RB Jamal Morrow, who finished Week 2 with 17 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown, while catching four passes for 28 yards. I haven’t seen a tailback shift side to side that quickly in some time and he’s setting up to be a human highlight reel.
16 The Bombers have signed global linebacker Thiadric Hansen to a two-year deal. Hansen was in Poland helping out Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country after Russia’s invasion and was hesitant to return to the CFL until a new CBA offered him the chance of a pay increase. He’s still under the old rules for this year — making $54,000, which is $10,000 less than the minimum salary for Canadian and Americans — but will see his salary double in 2023.
17 The Canadian Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 was announced this week, with QB Ricky Ray, LB Chip Cox, FB Tim Tindale and Dick Thornton, who played DB and receiver, making up the player group. Former Bomber head coach Dave Ritchie, Calgary Colts founder and former GM Keith Evans and long-time team executive Roy Shivers will be honoured in the builder category.
18 Last but not least, longtime broadcaster Glen Suitor and even longer-time sports scribe Ed Willes will be inducted into the CFHOF’s media wing.
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.