CFL Week 3 Recap: Did you see that catch by Ryan Smith?

Now *that* was a full week’s worth of action in the CFL, and anyone that suggests a four-game schedule can’t pack as much excitement and intrigue as a fatter slate in a North American pro football league may now piped own. In week three of the 2016 CFL season, all we got were an overtime-game doubleheader, the most ridiculous catch ever made in a game of professional football and a first-ballot Hall of Fame QB on full display.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Who needs the NFL, anyway…?

The Week That Was

Game by game, week three happened thusly.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28, Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24. Seriously, did you see that catch by Ryan Smith? You know, the perfectly-placed throw by Drew Willy and no-look reception? The one that made both TSN and ESPN Sports Center gabbers clam up? The number one of ESPN’s Top 10 Plays on Thursday night? How the hell did he do that? My own theory is that EA Sports is beta-testing Madden Go, in which players search their neighborhood for virtual flying footballs because frankly *nothing explains the physics of that freakin’ play.*

We could mention here that the personnel woes the Tiger-Cats were expected to face coming into 2016 have now fully manifested; even the Smith touchdown showed the holey coverage of the middle of the field that dogged the Ticats throughout. We could mention that Willy was finally gifted a deep game plan which nicely mixed run and pass from ballyhooed OC Paul LaPolice, while Hamilton’s offense simply could not move the ball on the ground – and racked up six turnovers. And we could give props to several Blue Bomber defensive players, looking lively for the first time this season: Jamaal Westerman, Ian Wild and Victor Harris were relentless, while Maurice Leggett notched two picks.

But whoa, that catch…

Toronto Argonauts 25, BC Lions 14. A great feature of football fandom is the way the narrative of the entire league is reshaped every week – though after this game, BC Lions fans might not necessarily agree. After all, last Wednesday some of the more enthusiastic were booking flights to Toronto for the Grey Cup after two impressive games. Now, not so much.

Though the Argonauts defense will receive much of the credit for the win (and rightfully so after shutting out BC for the better part of 2½ quarters), Toronto fans are surely more excited by the performance of Ricky Ray, who looked on this Thursday like, well, Ricky Ray. Using veteran guile to compensate for increasingly limited mobility, Ray repeatedly avoided the BC pass rush to take just two sacks on 35 dropbacks; nice work from him and an OL which had allowed more QB sacks than any CFL team through two games.

On the other side, Jonathan Jennings – a dude upon whom every predictor of great things for the Lions in ’16 professed belief – was everything that Ray wasn’t. (Or maybe that should be “was nothing that Ray was”?) Jennings was unceremoniously yanked in the third quarter after running up a measly stat line of 11-for-18 passing for 132 yards plus one interception. Old hand Travis Lulay entered and mustered marginally better numbers with the Lions’ only passing TD.

Is BC about to host a quarterback controversy? The Lions might also need to address the defense: As awesome as the Adam Bighill-Solomon Elimimian combo looks, the D’s gonna need a bit more against the league’s stauncher offensive lines…

Ottawa RedBlacks 26, Calgary Stampeders 26. I’m stating this straight out: I do not mind a tie result and do not understand the insistence on a winner and a loser in every single game. With a tie result in the Ottawa-Calgary game, we can appreciate the individual performance without need to assign “foat” and “hero” labels.

We can forget the Stamps’ near self-destruction due to back-to-back 15-yard penalties by rookie Alex Singleton and Frank Beltre, instead emphasizing, say, Singleton’s fantastic forced fumble of Nic Grigsby with 1:20 left in the fourth quarter. We can forget, too, Grigsby’s fumble in favor of admiration for the way he helped Trevor Harris control drives either by running the ball or catching the short-range pass. And the Calgary secondary can be forgiven the Grigsby torching by … you get the idea.

In this 26-26 tie, fans got a heck of a game which increasingly feels like the 2016 Grey Cup matchup. RedBlacks WR Chris Williams had a career day with three TD receptions among his 10 catches for 130 yards. For Calgary, Bo Levi Mitchell found Marquay McDaniel, Bakari Grant and Joe West a combined 17 times for 258 yards as though to ask why the Stampeders WR corps isn’t ranked among the league’s tops.

And numbers like these naturally fail to indicate some nice clutch plays going down the stretch on both sides, including the forced fumble on Grigsby and Jermaine Robinson’s smothering of McDaniel on Calgary’s last 2nd down of regulation. Great stuff.

See? Ties aren’t so bad…

Edmonton Eskimos 39, Saskatchewan Roughriders 36. If a loss on the scoreboard can count as a moral victory, the Riders can give themselves a symbolic W in their second game. Head coach/presumptive team savior Chris Jones looked much happier on the sideline than he did during Saskatchewan’s home opener – and with good reason. The Riders offense, which we’ve known for months is capable of putting up lotsa points, hummed enough that exactly one punt was logged by the team in the first half – and the team only saw third down three times.

Apparently no one informed Eskimos QB Mike Reilly about that Riders O, however, as the CFL’s no. 1 ranked player had his way against the Riders D after a slow first quarter, only to be constantly met with a score from the opposition brilliantly led by Darien Durant (who was good for 27-of-38 passing for 317 yards and four TDs against zero picks). For some odd reason, Reilly attempted no pass of over 15 yards until connecting with Adarius Bowman on a 56-yard TD with about 5:30 left in the second quarter, but from there on out managed a line of 19-of-26 for 326 yards and four TDs – not at all shabby.

So who else is looking forward to the first Calgary-Edmonton game…?

Weird Canadian news story of the week

We love our neighbors to the north for so much more than just the Canadian Football League, but TheGruelingTruth likes to include our weekly reminder to any would-be expatriates or the generally curious that, well, Canada really is a whole other country. And this week’s story also shows that, while Canadians typically enjoy a reputation for laidback outlook and mellow attitude, badassery is still well in evidence.

Last week in the excellently-named Panache, Ontario, 61-year-old former featherweight boxer Rick Nelson was leisurely taking his dog for a Sunday walk in the woods. A black bear cub suddenly poked out of the greenery lining one side of the walking trail to the surprise of member of all three species present. The cub’s cry of astonishment was naturally followed by the emergence of momma bear, weighing in at an estimated 300 pounds.

“I knew right away I was in trouble,” Nelson later told CBC. Not having found a stick or other object he might use in self-defense, Nelson quickly … swung an uppercut at the bear’s snout. No, really.

Unfortunately, all Nelson caught was teeth, which cut up his hand. The bear retaliated with a swing that left scratches on Nelson’s face and chest. In his post-fight analysis, Nelson explained to CBC that “I knew it would swing first with its left but it would really come with its right, because most bears are right-handed.”

Nelson’s second uppercut landed, drawing blood (!!!) from the bear. Luckily for Nelson, the mother bear at that point followed her wandering cub back off the trail without another punch thrown.

And if you thought Nelson couldn’t get badder or Canada wilder, check this out: The 60-plus year-old tending to his own injuries with peroxide and antibiotic cream rather than attend a hospital, which he told Huffington Post Canada that he “didn’t feel” he needed to.

Canada, if this guy is truly “standing guard for thee,” you’re all set.

Next week

Ottawa RedBlacks at Toronto Argonauts – After a week like the one just gone by, who wouldn’t want to start CFL week 4 a day earlier? Well, probably not the RedBlacks, who get just a four-day break after playing into overtime on Friday. Factoring in the continually improving play of the Argos through three weeks, figure the CFL’s first undefeated team takes the loss. Toronto wins 2016’s first matchup between the Ontario rivals.

Edmonton Eskimos at Winnipeg Blue Bombers – Remember that thing about narrative flips near the beginning of this column? Well, don’t get too script-flippy on the still-problematic Blue Bombers just yet; those six turnovers gifted from the Hamilton offense seem a bit disproportionate in a mere four-point win. We’ll see if Winnipeg can answer the inevitable Edmonton touchdown drives by scoring with a longer field, but a dose of skepticism is probably quite healthy here. Edmonton wins decisively as Winnipeg is left to accumulate garbage-time points again.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Montreal Alouettes – Okay, let’s see. For the Alouettes, S.J. Green is gone for the year, Kenny Stafford’s on the six-game injured list and Duron Carter is suspended. Take away these three guys from any passing attack and what chance do you give ‘em? Plus, hey, these are the 2016 Montreal Alouettes. Hamilton wins an ugly one.

BC Lions at Saskatchewan Roughriders – Despite a loss (and perhaps because of Jones’s über-ballsy, confidence-inducing decision to go for a possible win in OT on a 3rd-and-inches), the Roughriders suddenly look primed to do something they haven’t consistently since mid-2014, i.e. win. No disrespect or Chicken Little-like freaking out intended for BC here, but the Lions may be catching the Riders on the wrong week. Saskatchewan wins.

Next week: The Montreal Alouettes sign Rick Nelson, who immediately goes toe-to-toe with Duron Carter in practice…