MONTREAL -- The Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes each look to pick up momentum heading into the final third of the season on Sunday afternoon, as they close out Week 14 action at Percival Molson Stadium.
With playoff races heating up and both teams coming off respective losses last weekend, Sunday’s contest promises to deliver a playoff atmosphere in Montreal – something Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant is excited about.
“I always love playing out there, it’s a great atmosphere, it’s an intimate setting,” Durant told Riderville.com. “I have fun out there and it was definitely a game I missed last year, I missed being out there with the guys and we didn’t get the win so that’s most important, so I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Durant and the Riders face a true test of character in the coming weeks, particularly this week as they head on the road against a hungry team amidst no shortage of distractions. For one, their future Hall of Fame receiver is about to break the all-time record for career receptions.
Geroy Simon is tied with Ben Cahoon with 1,017 career catches, and will likely move past that mark on the very field Cahoon made a living as a CFL legend.
“Knowing that we’re going to Montreal and he’s breaking Cahoon’s record, it’s kind of special that way,” said Durant, who added that he hopes to get Simon the ball early so the Riders can move on with the rest of the game.
“I’m so happy for him and his accomplishments and I’m just glad I can be the guy to help him beat that record.”
Once that’s out of the way, the Riders can focus on ending a three-game losing streak that’s seemingly turned the province upside down. Over those losses the Roughriders have been dealt a season-ending injury to Rey Williams as well as a shorter-term injury to Kory Sheets, and have also fallen to third-place in the division behind the Lions and Stampeders.
The goal against Montreal this week is simple: Win no matter what.
“The objective is to win a game,” said Durant. “If we win 1-0 on a single, it’s all about winning because at the end of the day that’s the only way you win championships is by winning games.”
“Style points, they’re good for the viewers but a win is a win at the end of the day so that’s all we’re focused on.”
With Sheets out of the lineup, the Riders have seemingly lost the balance on offence that helped them start 8-1 on the season – something that was increasingly evident in last weekend’s last-second 24-22 loss to the BC Lions.
While the Riders scored and then surrendered a late lead thanks to a last-play field goal from Paul McCallum, Durant threw more passes in a game than any other quarterback this season, finishing the night 35-52 for 326 yards and two touchdowns.
Yet the ‘just win’ mantra remains strong for Durant, who added that if that’s the way his team has to win the game, so be it. Of course, if they could find a way to get replacement back Chris Garrett a little more involved, that would be ideal.
“Of course we want to be balanced, but at the end of the day it’s all about winning games so I don’t want to focus in on one guy,” said Durant. “We definitely want to get the running game going, it makes us unpredictable and it helps out on the play action and things of that nature so running the ball is definitely a big part of what we do.”
“We want to do whatever we have to do to win.”
Achieving that balance and returning to form offensively won’t come easy on Sunday, especially against a team that Durant said has been particularly strong on defence this season.
After struggling on that side of the ball in 2012, the Alouettes are suddenly a defensive juggernaut this season, surrendering the fewest first downs in the league and the second-fewest net yards only to the BC Lions.
They also entered Week 14 tied for the most interceptions, and sit fourth in the league with 41 quarterback sacks – well ahead of the next four teams behind them.
“Defensively they’re still one of the best defences in the league, and they’re a force to be reckoned with,” Durant told the team’s official website. “I said that earlier but I think people are starting to see that now.”
“They’ve got great cover guys, they disguise blitzes well, smart linebackers, John Bowman up front – he’s still one of the elite pass rushers in this league,” he continued. “From the front to the back they’re a good defence, and they’ve been playing that way all year.”
While the Als have experienced a resurgence defensively under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe, that hasn’t always translated to success in the win-loss column.
With a point differential of minus-64 and a third-place standing in the East Division, the troubles have come on the offensive side of the ball as the team has been forced to cope without Anthony Calvillo. Still, while the Als haven't been their usual dominant selves offensively, they still believe they're as good as anyone else.
“We recognize it’s not us,” said breakout star receiver Duron Carter. “Losing is not part of the Montreal way, and we’re trying to get back to it.”
“A lot of the games, they didn’t go our way and that’s just how the ball rolls sometimes, but right now we’re getting back to fundamentals and just going out and dominating people,” he continued. “We still feel like we’re one of the best teams in the league.”
Looking to pick up from the injured Tanner Marsh as well as the legendary number 13, Josh Neiswander has recently drawn some comparisons to Calvillo when it comes to both his demeanor and playing style – something the 26-year-old doesn’t appear to mind.
“As far as being similar and as far as doing things the way that he does, I would say I certainly try to emulate him as much as I can because as a professional, he’s all I’ve ever known,” Neiswander told MontrealAlouettes.com.
“I’m around him every day, I’ve been around him every day for my entire professional career and he’s the all-time leading passer in pro football history so I’ve obviously tried to be like him as much as I could as far as what we do offensively and certainly off the field.”
Many quarterbacks in the league, including the Riders’ Durant, have admittedly learned a lot from Calvillo – but only Neiswander has been lucky enough to serve as the legend’s understudy for the past couple of seasons.
“I think since I’ve been here, being around AC the last two and a half years has been a huge blessing for me, both personally and as a professional quarterback,” Neiswander continued. “I’ve learned so much from him just from coming in early, watching film with him, being around him, asking questions, and picking his brain as much as I possibly could.”
Neiswander made the best of his second career start last weekend, throwing for 294 yards and two touchdowns without a single interception in a 28-26 loss to the Tiger-Cats during Touchdown Atlantic.
Next time he’ll look to do enough to get the ‘W’, which Head Coach and General Manager Jim Popp said will require better execution and focus from his team as a whole.
“We really need to cut down our penalties, especially critical ones that make a difference in keeping drives alive,” said Popp.
“If we can build off what we did last week, on offence and defence especially, we had more yards, we had more sacks, we had time of possession, we had less turnovers – if we can build off that and improve it, we have a great chance.”
With the final four games of the season against East Division opponents following meetings with Saskatchewan and Edmonton, the final six-game stretch for the Als will be pivotal if they wish to climb the standings and host a home playoff game.
That stretch of six games begins now, as Popp’s club looks to heat up as the playoffs approach.
“No matter how you do it you’ve got to find a way to win, and we haven’t done it as much as we need to or should have this year and we’re concentrating on that,” said Popp. “We’ve got six regular season games left here, we have a chance to get it right at the right time and get it straightened out down the stretch and hopefully put us in a good position.”
“We have to take it one game at a time, it’s a new season, a six-game regular season here – let’s see how well we can do, it starts this week.”
Kickoff is at 1:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from Riderville.com/MontrealAlouettes.com