VANCOUVER — A wise guy — and there’s always plenty of them around a losing team — informed Jacques Chapdelaine the last Alouettes head coach to win a game at BC Place, Tom Higgins, was fired the following day.
“That’s a great incentive,” Chapdelaine quipped. Of course, he was joking.
Dating back to 2000, the Als have won only three games in British Columbia and one of those, in 2010, was at Empire Field while the Lions’ domed facility was undergoing renovations. The visitors that season used a trailer as their dressing room.
“I haven’t done the research. I know I’ve won a couple here over the years. One was as an Alouette, so it’s not impossible,” said linebacker Kyries Hebert, in his sixth Canadian Football League season with the team and 12th overall. “If it was already guaranteed they were going to win, there would be no point taking the flight. We’d save the team a lot of money. We could just stay home.”
So here we go again, the Als’ annual pilgrimage to Vancouver, where they face the Lions Friday night (10 p.m., TSN, RDS, TSN Radio-690). Montreal, 3-7, has lost three straight games and needs a victory badly. While the Als are not yet desperate in the weak East Division, where no team has more than four wins, this is a fragile squad that must start winning to believe it’s still capable of achieving something, anything, as it attempts to salvage the season.
The Lions, meanwhile, have their own issues. Coming off a bye week, B.C. also has lost three straight. After a 4-1 start, the Lions sit at 5-5, last in the West Division.
“You want to show people that you’ve still got a chance,” said veteran Alouettes rush-end John Bowman, 35. “I thought we’d be way better coming into this year.
“I want to win in the worst way. You never know when your time’s up. My clock’s ticking.”
A three-game skid, not to mention their history on the west coast, is the least of the Als’ many concerns. Montreal has been outscored, 104-41, over that stretch. In two of the games, the team failed to produce an offensive touchdown, something that’s virtually incomprehensible in this normally high-scoring league.
“The frustrating part, in two of our last three games, we haven’t moved the ball offensively. We haven’t looked like a professional team offensively. That’s the most-frustrating part,” said the always candid Nik Lewis. “If I didn’t believe we could win, I’d go home. We definitely have the talent, but talent doesn’t always win games.”
While many have criticized the erratic play of quarterback Darian Durant, who frequently appears to be under pressure, or the apparent lack of dynamic receivers he has at his disposal, Lewis believes the pieces are in place.
“We have speed, a good quarterback, an effective offensive line, a defence that doesn’t give up a lot of points,” he said. “It’s hard to say what we’re missing. We’re missing opportunities, with penalties, and have to play smarter. Guys are going out and trying to play harder, and they’re pressing. Do we want to be in this position every week where we’re just barely hanging on? No. We have to start winning. You have to start building confidence.”
Nobody, it seems, is pressing more than Durant, who wants to make a good impression during his first season with the team. He has passed for 2,526 yards through 10 games, placing him seventh overall among pivots. Durant has thrown 13 touchdowns, but a league-leading 11 interceptions — several when Montreal has been in scoring position.
This doesn’t mean it’s all on Durant. But the quarterback always will be the easiest to praise or criticize for a team’s success or failure.
“If there’s no protection, if we’re not precise in our spacing, doing everything right, it’s all going to fall on me — and I take full responsibility. I’ve had my share of messed-up plays,” Durant said. “We all have to be on the same page for us all to be successful. There’s a lot that contributes to my success and my failures.
“We (as quarterbacks) are going to take the fall. Whatever my fate or success is, it comes with it.”
It would seem Durant’s margin of error, at least for now, is paper-thin, as it has been since the Als signed veteran Drew Willy in late June to serve as his backup and insurance policy. Durant was removed in the third quarter against Ottawa last week, after throwing an interception. Chapdelaine might feel compelled the pull the trigger earlier, moving forward, should his offence continue struggling.
Friday night’s game will be the 124th start of Durant’s career. His overall record is hardly flattering, at 61-61-1.
“I feel good. There are no ill feelings,” Durant said. “I don’t worry about that. I just play football.”
And if anyone was expecting heads would roll following the Als’ latest implosion, Chapdelaine also appears to believe in the hand he has been dealt.
“Some veterans, at a certain point in their season (contracts are guaranteed and) sabre-rattling isn’t going to affect that,” he said. “You can change things, but I do believe the guys we have now are the best possible that will give us an opportunity to win. Until that changes, we’re going to keep moving forward with that.”
Meanwhile, the Als on Thursday released quarterback Jacory Harris, who had slipped to fourth on the depth chart.