November 24, 2023

Ferguson: Fajardo bucks the stats en route to GC win

Kevin Sousa/

Despite the lack of precipitation involved in the 110th Grey Cup there were two distinct snowballs that began rolling downhill, gaining size and speed over the last two months of CFL football.

The first was Montreal Alouettes’ momentum. A team gelling at the right time, finding a way to carve out an identity on short notice after so many pieces came in suddenly pre- and even mid-season.

The second was a stubborn defiance, almost outright anger at the notion the Alouettes couldn’t finish the job, win the big game, beat the team ahead of them in the standings or lean on their offence for success to win a Grey Cup title.

Central to the messaging on much of this was Cody Fajardo himself, the starting quarterback and player most likely to prove many of the doubters wrong through his own performances.

At one point Fajardo claimed that the bandwagon was full and if you hadn’t joined already it was too late. By now we’ve all seen the Grey Cup Saturday night speed from Fajardo to his teammates about defying critics and telling them, “(bleep) you, just watch.”

Als celebrate movie-like Grey Cup win in the streets of Montreal
» O’Leary: Lifted by legendary QB’s, Fajardo breaks through
» Costabile: Four memorable moments from the 110th Grey Cup


After the Alouettes’ stunning triumph Sunday with Fajardo throwing the game-winning touchdown to National receiver Tyson Philpot, Fajardo once again played the hits. He thanked the media for ranking Montreal last in power rankings to start the season, suggesting the doubt fuelled the Alouettes’ obvious gelling process.

Using the media, doubters, haters and any other form of motivation is a strategy older than the esteemed heritage of the trophy the Als just carried through the streets of Montreal with adoring fans in tow.

The comedic irony to me in hating all those — present company included — who called into question the team’s ability to close the deal is that it unintentionally takes away from the incredible story of the 2023 Montreal Alouettes; a team that through analysis should NOT have won the Grey Cup.

I doubted and picked apart the Alouettes’ chances in both Toronto and against Winnipeg the following week based on trends, data and research. It’s what football minds get paid to do, it’s what I pride myself on and I felt secure going so far as saying on national television that Montreal could not beat Winnipeg for the 110th Grey Cup unless they got 14 points from its defence and special teams.

Why make such a claim?

In two games against Winnipeg’s defence, Montreal failed to score a touchdown, totalling just six offensive points on two field goals. On Sunday, William Stanback rushed for one while Fajardo threw for another three!

My biggest concern was Montreal needing explosive passing plays to stay close. The stats screamed that this wasn’t possible.

On passes of 20 yards or more in the air through the regular season, Montreal had 74 attempts (sixth), 30 completions (seventh) an 83.7 pass efficiency grade (sixth). They were the only team (9:9) to have an equal or negative TD:INT ratio other than the East Division’s last place Ottawa REDBLACKS (3:9).

The Als didn’t have four pass completions of 20-plus air yards all season. The last time they had three was in Week 3 against Hamilton on June 23. That was 18 games ago!

OK, that was the regular season, but what about the playoffs? In the Eastern Semi-Final against Hamilton and Eastern Final upset of Toronto, Fajardo had a PFF passing grade of 61.9, an average depth of target of 6.3 yards and was 1-6 on those pesky 20-yard or deeper attempts including 0-4 against Toronto in his most recent effort.

So of course Fajardo flipped the script on us all by going 4-6 for 118 yards one TD and one interception in the Grey Cup with some world class assists by Austin Mack and Tyson Philpot.

We had reason to doubt. We saw the film, the numbers and were projecting what Montreal was likely to be in this Grey Cup. The football analyst in me loves nothing more than being wrong when teams and players turn out against-the-grain performances.

Fajardo found a way to get explosive passing plays, used the doubt as motivation and as an end result held the Grey Cup above his head in celebration. THAT is Grey Cup glory at its finest.

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