A two game slide, followed by three straight wins has the Hamilton Tiger-Cats sitting one-game above .500 as the team enjoys their bye week. With no game on the schedule for the Black and Gold in week 6, it gives us a chance to dissect the Tabbies opening five contests of 2012.
Hamilton kicked off the final season at historic Ivor Wynne Stadium with a whimper against Saskatchewan back on June 29 – suffering a blowout 27-point loss to the Riders. After all of the pre-season hype surrounding Henry Burris and his many weapons on offence, the Ticats managed just a single touchdown. Although, the lone major was a highlight reel 89-yard rushing effort courtesy Chevon Walker, announcing his playmaking presence to the league in the process.
Despite the lack of point production from Burris and company in the season opener, it was the defence, which, understandably, had many fans concerned. Riders quarterback Darian Durant made it look easy throwing for 390 yards and four touchdowns. Plus, the Green and White added 121 yards along the ground. Giving up 511 total offensive yards and 43 points is ugly no matter how you try to spin it.
|Cauz: The 'Cats final quarter|
|CFL.ca columnist Matt Cauz dissects the Ticats' final quarter that capped off a dramatic Week 5. Read more.|
In week 2 Hamilton traveled to the Left Coast for a date with the defending Grey Cup champion, BC Lions. Most pundits had the Ticats dropping to 0-2 before the game even kicked off.
Hamilton fell behind 23-14 at BC Place. Burris was benched before the end of the first half and it looked like the wheels might fall off completely. However, Hank came back to start the third quarter – cleaned up the mistakes and misreads that head coach George Cortez had pulled him because of – throwing for 215 yards and two touchdowns, but the second half surge fell just short as the Ticats lost 39-36 to fall into an 0-2 hole to start the season.
After the defeat in BC, rumours of a strife locker room were floating around and just like that, the pre-season buzz around the team turned into a negative tone. Upon closer review, there were signs that the offence and defence were slowly progressing, despite two straight losses to begin the 2012 campaign.
Burris threw for 359 yards and four touchdowns against the Lions, who many think have the most talented defensive secondary in the league. Not to mention Walker producing a spectacular touchdown for a second straight week – taking a screen pass and weaving through the Lions defence for a 95-yard major. On the other side of the ball, the Ticats defence was really only responsible for 23 of the 39 points BC scored. These signs of progress proved true in week 3 in a matchup against the Ticats hated rivals from down the QEW.
Behind three touchdowns –scored three different ways via reception, punt and missed field goal returns – and 266 total yards from Chris Williams, Hamilton took a 29-16 halftime lead over Toronto. Hamilton’s defence held Argo pivot Ricky Ray to 232 yards and no touchdowns through the air while intercepting him once. As the Ticats held on for a nine-point victory, their first of the season and any talk of dissention among the ranks was laid to rest. Winning cures all and it really seemed to bring the Ticats together.
Proof of a tightened group came one week later. Montreal, the perennial beast of the East division, came to Steeltown and the Ticats put a hurting on the Alouettes.
The Tabbies jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in a thorough 39-24 defeat of the Als. Burris registered a near perfect quarterback rating of 156.3, two points away from the highest rating possible, completing 27 of 30 passes for 360 yards and four touchdowns. Andy Fantuz caught eight of those balls for 135 yards and a score, finally looking like the best Canadian receiver league wide Hamilton thought there were getting when they signed him as a free agent.
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The Ticat defence beat up and frustrated Montreal pivot Anthony Calvillo as the Black and Gold evened their record at 2-2.
Fantuz’s return to Regina was the headline going into the week 5 showdown between the Ticats and Riders. Although, it was a Burris-led fourth quarter rally that stole the show.
The crowd at Mosaic was almost deafening to start the final 15 minutes. Saskatchewan’s Riders had a 19-point lead before Hank turned white hot and the defence played easily their best quarter of the early season. Fellow CFL.ca columnist Matthew Cauz relives the epic fourth quarter in detail for us all.
Burris hit on 13 of his 14 fourth quarter pass attempts for 177 yards and three touchdowns to lead the 35-34 come from behind win for Hamilton. Certainly an improbable victory, but if the Ticats lose that ball game we’re sitting here during the bye week wondering what is wrong with Hamilton’s defence - other than playing against Durant who has put together a startling resume as a Ticat killer.
All in all, after five weeks, the Ticats sit atop the East Division and despite the slow start, look like they are improving each time out under the guidance of Cortez.
During their three-game win streak, the Ticats have shown the type of explosive offensive play all the experts were expecting at the beginning of the year. Speed can’t be taught and is hard to match up with, evidenced by Walker and Williams’ fast starts to the season. Also, credit Burris with quickly showing a solid rapport, only to get better, with his new group of receivers.
Burris has earned the trust of the 11 other players in the offensive huddle and become the unquestioned leader of the offensive group. His counterpart on defence has to be middle linebacker Rey Williams.
Williams has been running around making plays all over the field and should be in the early conversation for the CFL’s most outstanding defensive player award. The five-year CFL veteran sits third in the league with 29 tackles, has one sack, an interception off of Calvillo in week 4 – teammates and he himself admitted he should have taken all the way back for six – and recovered a forced fumble in Saskatchewan which helped spur the Ticats improbable fourth quarter rally.
We’re still a long way from handing out any type of post-season hardware and there are still many kilometres to travel on the road to the 100th Grey Cup, but judging from what we’ve seen so far the Ticats look like the favourite to come out of the East Division.
|2||Blue Bombers||DE||Mulumba, Andy|
|3||Alouettes via EDM||LB||Edem, Mike|