It was Anthony Calvillo's 40th birthday Thursday night, and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats came bearing gifts. Calvillo and his Alouettes had a generally-solid game, but mistakes from their opponents may have been an even more critical factor in Montreal's 31-29 win. The Ticats committed crucial errors throughout Thursday's contest, and those are an important reason why they're now 3-5 instead of 4-4. Some of the problems Hamilton put on display are fixable, and it's certainly easier to be optimistic for a team's future after they narrowly lose a close game thanks to mistakes than after they're blown out of the building, but the Tiger-Cats will need to start addressing the problems if they want to improve this year. In particular, they need to fix their procedure for challenging calls, which burned them badly in this loss.
Hamilton head coach George Cortez made the decision not to challenge a long fourth-quarter S.J. Green reception that replays appeared to show was trapped against the ground rather than caught cleanly, and that move proved to be a pivotal one. That non-challenge allowed the Alouettes to nab a field goal that put them up 28-26, and they wound up winning after the teams exchanged field goals again. If Cortez or one of his assistant coaches had seen the replay and simply decided that it wasn't worth challenging, that's one thing, but as Cortez told Drew Edwards afterwards, he didn't see the replay and no one brought it to his attention:
The first-year coach said he didn't see a replay and his players didn't tell him it was a non-catch. "As I looked down the field it looked like he caught it," Cortez said. "It never crossed my mind to challenge."
That's a problematic explanation, especially considering that Cortez also delivered it after a Week One loss to the Riders following what looked like a non-catch from Weston Dressler. It's not necessarily that Cortez has to watch every replay of every potentially-controversial play; he undoubtedly has a lot of things on his mind during the game, the sideline's full of distractions, and it isn't always easy for someone on the line to get a good look at video. The Tiger-Cats clearly need to firm up their procedure for determining when to challenge, though, perhaps by having someone in the coaches' booth or someone on the sidelines specifically focus on replays. If Cortez is going to make the decision on every challenge, fine, but then he has to find a way to watch the replay of everything that's close. If he's not, then he has to delegate that task to someone. In a game where so much can turn on challenges, the team has to find a way to ensure that someone on their staff has a good look at each replay and can make a call on whether it's worth challenging. The inability to do that has burned the Tiger-Cats twice this year at least, and that's an issue that should be corrected.
Sure, the Ticats made plenty of other mistakes Thursday night. Unsurprisingly considering their struggles against the run, they couldn't stop Brandon Whitaker (102 rushing yards and a touchdown, six catches for 56 yards). They also couldn't shut down Green, who had 10 catches for 168 yards and a touchdown on the night. They didn't effectively utilize the ground game; while Avon Cobourne averaged 6.25 yards per carry, he only received eight carries and thus only earned 50 yards. They couldn't convert field position into touchdowns, either, settling for five field goals, and they didn't manage the clock effectively; their lead-taking field goal came with over a minute left, more than enough time for Anthony Calvillo to drive the Alouettes into range for Sean Whyte's game-winning kick. Still, it's the challenge error that stands out the most, though, as ensuring there are eyes on a replay seems to be standard practice for most CFL teams, but it's now burned Hamilton at least twice in a single season. Everything this team did wrong Thursday is potentially fixable, but ensuring that someone on the coaching staff looks at a replay would seem to be the easiest solution of all.