The original idea for this column was to cover the return of Brandon Banks, Bralon Addison and Jeremiah Masoli for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It seemed like a slam dunk idea with so much offensive firepower all coming back at the same time.
But then came the wise words of my editor Kristina Costabile who told me to wait and see how it all played out. Her message was prophetic as the game was a slog at the half with Hamilton and Montreal combining for a mere nine points. By the end of the game the story was clearly Vernon Adams Jr. He wasn’t perfect, far from it, but his performance on Saturday deserves attention.
Vernon Adams Jr. reminds me of the Calgary Stampeders; I went into the year fairly confident I knew what to expect and I have been wrong at nearly every turn. Adams has been the proverbial roller coaster with flashes of brilliance but also far too many interceptions and inaccurate passes.
In his first three games, Adams was completing just north of 50% of his passes averaging 215 passing yards a game. The last three games have seen his numbers markedly improve with a 65% completion rate and nearly 100 more yards through the air. The only thing that had not changed was the Alouettes record; they were 1-2 in those first three games and 1-2 in the last three. Much of that is due to mistakes made throughout the roster and Adams’ turnovers have been a big reason why Montreal were sitting at 2-4 coming into Hamilton.
What I appreciated about Adams in his team’s 23-20 win was that nothing came easy for him or the Alouettes offence. He was sacked three times, there were a couple big drops and the team committed 12 penalties for 125 yards. All of this contributed to Montreal having more punts (6) than points (3) after three quarters in an especially loud Tim Hortons Field. On top of all the errors on the field and underwhelming statistics, Adams rolled his left ankle with under five minutes to go in the first quarter and would not come back until the second half.
Before we get to the good, let’s address the two interceptions. The first, near the end of third quarter to Cariel Brooks, was such a bad overthrow that it had to be miscommunication between the quarterback and Eugene Lewis. I have no idea who was at fault and I bet if we asked Adams, he would say it was on him, even if it wasn’t. The critical pick late in the game was most certainly on Adams who tried to force one in by Ciante Evans, who was all over that play. Evans, a three-time All-Star, deserves credit for his sticky coverage but that ball never should have been thrown and is an example of the mistakes we have seen far too often this year from Adams.
But then there was his fourth quarter brilliance. His 26-yard touchdown pass to Jake Wieneke was pure Travel Agent cause it was all about location, location, location as he delivered the touchdown throw right in the back corner of the end zone. This touchdown was not the result of some intricately designed pass route. Jake just flew down the field and Adams went deep, managing to beat both Ciante Evans and Jumal Rolle.
On the final touchdown drive for Montreal, we got to witness Adams at his best. On a third-and-four, he eschews the safe short routes and instead finds Eugene Lewis on a deep comebacker for 25 yards near the sidelines. Then comes his touchdown pass that perfectly encapsulates so much of Montreal’s offence on this day. William Stanback drops an easy pass on first down and then Adams is sacked by Tunde Adeleke, who comes shooting through on such a clever, well-timed blitz up the middle. A drive that started with such promise and purpose found itself on third-and-20. There are not many play calls in a coach’s rolodex for that down and distance.
Some will say Vernon got lucky on his 28-yard touchdown pass to Lewis, and I understand that. I view his throw not as reckless because when you consider the circumstances, what other choice did he have? Instead that game-saving toss was more about a quarterback giving his target a chance to make a play. Yes, it was into traffic but when you watch it over, you can see Adams delivers a strike right to Lewis’ hands. It was an incredible throw where the degree of difficulty could not have been higher.
The story of this game is nowhere near complete without mentioning the heroics of Taylor Bertolet hitting that ridiculous 55-yard, game-tying field goal. He hit that sucker into the wind; it split the uprights with about five inches to spare. It was a breath-taking play that turned a game that started out as a real snooze into must watch TV. I feel awful for Sean Thomas-Erlington for fumbling in overtime, gift-wrapping the win for Montreal but I feel better for the Alouettes quarterback who overcame so much and deserved the win.
So, this column does not seem like it’s all about the quarterback, who usually gets far too much credit for wins. Let’s be clear, Adams does not get a chance to be a hero without his defence holding up late in the game. The post-game focus easily could have been on Adams’ second interception to Evans. Soon after the turnover, Hamilton had a second-and-four with under two minutes to go leading 17-13.
The Tiger-Cats were a couple of first downs away from overtaking Toronto for tops in the East and Montreal falling to 2-5 and hanging out with the Ottawa REDBLACKS in the East Division basement. Instead, Chris Ackie finds a clear path right through the heart of the Tabbies offensive line and takes down Masoli forcing a Hamilton punt.
Football can be a cruel sport when it comes to narratives. It is such a thin line between goat and hero and throughout that back-and-forth affair in Hamilton, Vernon Adams Jr. swayed between both sides and ended up the hero because of so many things both he and his team did right in the fourth quarter and one critical error by Hamilton in overtime.
I hope they can meet again in the playoffs.