It was a great day for one Saskatchewan Roughrider, but not for the rest of the team. Slotback Geroy Simon broke Ben Cahoon's CFL record for career receptions with a first-quarter catch, adding two more (and 47 total receiving yards) on the day to extend the record to 1,020 receptions. However, while there were a few other solid individual efforts, it was a disappointing day for the Riders as an organization. They fell 17-12 to the Alouettes in Montreal, losing their fourth-straight game in the process and weakening their chances of hosting a playoff game. Meanwhile, the once-seemingly-doomed Alouettes have boosted their own playoff hopes significantly with this result. When the smoke clears on this CFL season, this may be remembered as one of the most important games in terms of playoff positioning, one that hurt Saskatchewan while raising up Montreal.
Once again, as it has been in every game since Kory Sheets was hurt early on three weeks ago against Toronto, the Riders' chief problem was their inability to run the ball. Saskatchewan had the CFL's best rushing offence while Sheets was healthy, but they've been staggeringly inept on the ground in his absence, and that continued Sunday. Starting running back Chris Garrett picked up just nine yards on five carries (an average of just 1.8 yards per carry), while fullback Neal Hughes and quarterbacks Darian Durant and Drew Willy combined for just six more. Yep, Saskatchewan finished with 16 rushing yards on nine carries (1.8 yards per carry). The CFL may be a passing league, but you still have to be able to run the ball to at least some extent, and many of the Riders' victories this year have come from an offence that heavily emphasized the run and found great success in doing so. Without that ground game, they went pass-wacky, and that didn't work either: Durant threw for 339 yards and a touchdown, but completed just 52.2 per cent of his passes and tossed three interceptions.
The Saskatchewan offence looks remarkably terrible without Sheets, and if they don't get him back soon or find a better way to compensate for his absence, it could be a long and slow slog to the playoffs for the Riders. Their chances of hosting a playoff game are already dropping: Saskatchewan's now 8-5, two games back of Calgary for first in the West and one game back of B.C. for second. Neither of those leads is insurmountable, especially as the Riders have two games left against the Lions, one left against the Stampeders and two left against 3-10 Edmonton. However, Calgary and B.C. both seem to be in much better form at the moment, and they have the inside edge on those key playoff spots with home-field advantage.
Meanwhile, the Alouettes' playoff hopes are still very much alive, and they might even be able to host a playoff game. Montreal's 5-8 after this win, and while catching 9-4 Toronto for first is probably out of the question, beating out 6-7 Hamilton isn't inconceivable, especially considering how the Tiger-Cats struggled Saturday. They're also up two full games on the Eskimos now in the crucial potential battle for the last playoff spot, and as Edmonton would have to finish ahead of Montreal, that lead stretches to more like three games (barring an Eskimos' tie). The Alouettes head into Edmonton to face the Eskimos this coming Saturday, and a win there would all but ensure they make the playoffs. Not bad for a team that's been in turmoil for much of this season. There are still questions in Montreal, particularly on offence, but things are looking up for their fans. You can't say that for Riders' fans at the moment.