Can the Cats rebound?

Courtesy Hamilton Spectator:

Say this for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Both previous times they’ve pitched a stinker this year — prior to Friday’s 42-8 nostril scorcher — they responded the following week with a huge and completely unexpected win.

You’ll recall the discouraging effort in the season opener against Toronto that had the more-emotional fans buying cyanide tablets. But several days later, Hamilton marched into B.C. where they never win, and won.

Then two weeks ago against the Argonauts at Rogers Centre they premiered a 60-minute piece of performance art titled, “Remember The Bad Old Days?” only to follow that up with a statement-making win over Calgary at home.

Whether they can do it a third time on Saturday in Calgary is going to answer a lot of questions about this team’s psyche and resilience. Even more than the other two. Because the way they lost on Friday was different. In neither of those earlier cases were they made to look as outclassed as they were against a vastly superior Montreal team. From the coaches to the last man on the roster, everyone was outmatched in this one.

It was the kind of thorough butt- kicking that has the potential to sow some seeds of doubt in a dressing room that’s shown admirable mental toughness but hasn’t yet had to confront a discouraging situation like this.

The coaches and players are certainly saying all the right things. After Friday’s thrashing, head coach Marcel Bellefeuille talked about watching the game film, fixing the problems, and then flushing this game down the toilet. Otis Floyd was busy saying that as pros, you simply have to walk out of the dressing room and leave that game behind. And Jykine Bradley was offering much of the same sentiment.

But it’s hard to believe it’s really just as easy as speaking it into reality. Particularly when you consider what Montreal did to Hamilton in this one game.

First, Anthony Calvillo and the Als’ offence absolutely dismantled a Ticat defence that has been very, very good this year. The same unit that tied Calgary in knots a week before offered about as much resistance as a bug flying into a windshield. Watching the best part of their team get destroyed has to burrow into the players’ heads to some degree. Doubt may be denied, but it’s natural.

Just as there have to be some questions in the dressing room about whether the Cats have a good enough kick return team to compete with the best. If the defence was terrible, the returners were vomitous. Fumbles, bobbles and negligible runbacks aren’t going to build a great feeling of destiny among the troops.

Then there’s the offence. The players say they still believe in Quinton Porter. Bellefeuille certainly put up a spirited defence of his embattled quarterback after the game. But the truth is, he’s not playing well. Not close.

Equally troubling, the offensive line that was built in the offseason to be the strength of the team was ineffective. Top it all off with some stupid penalties, some dropped passes and little from the running game and you’ve got a smorgasbord of awfulness.

But again, history says, hold on. This is a team that’s done substantially better the week after bad losses. Not just this year either. Last year the team followed a 23-point loss with a mere five-point loss. Then a 27-pointer was followed by a six-pointer.

They repeated the 23-point-to-five-point spread again, won after being shelled by 30 and lost by a single point after losing by 31.

Most of the time over the past few years though, expectations were low so losing was disappointing but hardly a shock. On Friday, many people expected the Cats to win. Believing they’d closed the gap on Montreal makes losing this way particularly painful because it exposed how far they still have to go.

Which brings us to Calgary. A rebound win this weekend and most will dismiss Friday as just one of those nights.

The kind that happen to everyone now and again.

But another ghastly effort and suddenly so much of the good feeling that’s been brewing since July gets called into question.

Especially with a huge conference game on deck against Winnipeg the week after that Hamilton absolutely should win, and then a trip to Montreal. Games that would become bigger than just battles for two points.

Because losing games is bad enough. But heading into the playoffs having lost all the momentum and confidence you worked so hard to gain isn’t much better.

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