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Suddenly vulnerable Alouettes look to regroup for rematch with Ticats

09/08/2011 05:59 EDT | Updated 11/08/2011 05:12 EST
MONTREAL - The days of an easy ride through the CFL East Division look to be over for the Montreal Alouettes.

The two-time defending Grey Cup champions are in unfamiliar territory midway through the season — tied for second place with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, four points behind division-leading Winnipeg.

They are coming off a 44-21 thrashing in Hamilton and now are preparing for a rematch at home home on Sunday against the Ticats, who have beaten them twice in as many meetings this year.

For guard Scott Flory, only twice before in his 13 seasons in Montreal has the club had five or fewer wins at the halfway point of the regular season, the last during a rebuilding year when they were 5-4 in 2007.

"I have a lot of faith in this team — there's no finger-pointing, no dissension," Flory said Thursday. "If that was happening, it would be a concern, but it's not.

"We work hard. We've got to get that bounce going back our way. It's going to happen. We're a confident group and we've got a chance in the next nine games. We have five at home, and it starts with getting Hamilton back on Sunday."

The Alouettes are used to dominating the East, but much improved teams in Winnipeg and Hamilton have changed the landscape.

There's still little danger of missing the playoffs, as the top three make it and the hapless Toronto Argonauts are 2-7. But if they don't turn it around, it could be one of those rare years when they don't move into Olympic Stadium for a playoff game at home.

The loss in Hamilton was the Alouettes' second in a row, the second time they've had back-to-back defeats. Suddenly, a Montreal team that has lost four of its last six games is looking vulnerable.

And they have yet to play any of their three scheduled games against Winnipeg, with the first coming Sept. 18 in Montreal.

"The parity in the league is like nothing I've seen," added Flory. "I don't know if you're going to see 16-2 or 15-3 teams any more.

"The quality of the players and management across the league has increased dramatically since I first came in the league (in 1999). Any team can win week to week. You mix in injuries and everything that goes with playing an 18-game season and anything can happen."

The Alouettes looked to come unravelled on Labour Day at Ivor Wynne Stadium when, after scoring on a first-minute fumble recovery, they were overwhelmed by the Ticats. Montreal did not score an offensive touchdown in the game — not even on first and goal from the 2-yard line at the end of the first half.

Not long ago, the Alouettes could get away with a mediocre performance and still pull out the win, but now sub-par efforts are punished.

"In the past, you could get away with making four or five mistakes in a game and now you can't," said quarterback Anthony Calvillo. "That's how tight the league is this year and how it will be the rest of the year."

The Alouettes looked to lose their temper, taking undisciplined penalties, and dissension looked to be creeping in as veteran rush end Anwar Stewart complained of lack of playing time after the game, although he later apologized.

Calvillo said the team was caught off guard by Hamilton's defensive game plan, and didn't adjust as the Ticats dropped their usual man to man coverage in favour of more zone defence.

Montreal's usually strong run defence sprung holes, and former Alouettes Avon Cobourne ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

"We don't have to change anything, we just have to do what we're supposed to do," said defensive end John Bowman. "We had a lot of missed assignments, missed tackles, a lot of guys out of their gap and things like that. We have to correct that."

It hasn't helped that three of the five starters in the defensive backfield are injured, and middle linebacker Shea Emry was out with a concussion.

Emry practised Thursday but remains a question mark for Sunday.

Safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette will be back to help out rookie Jeff Hecht, who is replacing the injured Etienne Boulay.

They will also bring back veteran defensive tackle Eric Wilson, who sat out last week in a numbers game involving the import ratio and was badly missed.

Mostly, the Alouettes feel they need to raise their intensity level.

"We all understand the potential we have, but we have to put it to use," said Flory. "We have to perform, play angry, play mad, play physical and start walking with our chests out again."

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