The pain was palpable exiting TD Place Thursday night as Ottawa fans left with a loss for the 17th time in their last 18 trips to a REDBLACKS home game.
The game experience was tremendous: a pregame concert, creative concession options, a halftime citizenship ceremony that completed with a standing ovation for the new Canadians and an entertaining back and forth football game full of big hits, deep throws and intriguing decisions.
None of that mattered to head coach Paul LaPolice as he woke up Friday frustrated, perhaps more accurately bewildered by his team’s 0-6 start to the season.
I’ve been on the call for four of the REDBLACKS’ six games, tracked every snap of every game across the league as always and I too woke up stunned at how this team remains winless.
They’re creating explosive passing plays, running the ball effectively on first down and improving their score zone effectiveness each week. Now, I’m not saying Ottawa is perfect and has been robbed. They’ve struggled creating turnovers and preventing explosive pass plays, while the odd throw from either Jeremiah Masoli or Caleb Evans leaves points on the board but Richie Leone continues to bomb field position-flipping punts and Terry Williams is regularly taking what should be a seven-yard return and turning it into a 27-yard gain.
There is a lot to work with, despite the win column goose egg.
I walked past a pair of grocery store workers in Ottawa yesterday that were debating whether or not to attend the game. As I wandered towards the nearest coffee source on what would eventually be a 21-hour day I heard one say to the other, “they’re terrible this year. I don’t think I’ll go.”
If you open CFL.ca or the Ottawa Sun and flip to the standings page, seeing 0-6 without context and forming an opinion on the quality of a roster, decision making and overall play of the REDBLACKS I can’t help you, but the argument needs to be clearly stated.
Ottawa is a GOOD football team.
In a few conversations last night walking off the field as Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris complimented the battle with Ottawa’s defence and REDBLACKS fans created their own mini football moments, I made this argument to various members of the CFL community.
Many couldn’t help but chuckle, even the odd snort of laughter at the idea that Ottawa’s record is nowhere close to representing their quality through the first third of 2022.
Call me crazy, especially in the cold business of professional football where wins and losses determine job security and pay raises, but I genuinely believe Ottawa has a real chance to contend in the East Division this year. It’s an argument of course helped by the lack of a runaway club like Winnipeg in the West, but based more on what I’ve seen and how I believe the roster will develop over the next 14 weeks.
The ending of a great game last night was clunky and having the game manipulated from an unseen observer in the command centre will always feel awkward even when the correct call is reached — as it was on both picked up flags against Montreal’s Mike Moore.
Add it all together with the tension of a winless season and you get a large number of vocally unhappy fans, some going so far as to call postgame radio shows and demand an in-season coaching change because LaPolice “isn’t a winner.”
I believe in process over standings, especially early in the season and the REDBLACKS’ coaching staff has done little that deserves calling for drastic measures.
I get it. This isn’t where REDBLACKS fans thought they’d be in late July after a plethora of free agent signings and a significant upgrade at the games most important position but keep in mind few — if any — teams are exactly where they expected to be as the CFL season twists and turns offering adversity with each new week.
The REDBLACKS could have beaten the still undefeated Bombers in either of their first two games if they finished better deep in Winnipeg territory. They would have got the ball back for Masoli late in the fourth trailing by three if Adam Auclair doesn’t rough BC punter Stefan Flintoft. They were about two yards away from walking off victorious in Hamilton last Saturday and a Darvin Adams catch away from sending fans home relieved last night.
Being 4-2 looks a heck of a lot different than 0-6. So close, yet so far away from reality, but don’t let the standings fool you. Ottawa will be around when playoff seeding is determined come late October IF they focus on the task at hand and ignore the call for guillotine mercy from those who can’t, or refuse to see just how close they are to breaking through.