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Turnovers, failure to execute keep Alouettes from clinching playoff spot

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On this Thanksgiving Day, there was little for the Montreal Alouettes to be thankful for, serving up a turkey in a 34-27 loss to the lowly Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

After delivering their most dominant performance of the season a week earlier against the Eskimos in Edmonton, the Alouettes couldn’t get it together against Winnipeg. They turned the ball over an unthinkable seven times. Drives were stalled, even when helped on several occasions by Blue Bombers penalties.

“Anything that we’ve improved on – from turnovers to penalties, especially ones at the wrong times – we did none of that today, absolutely none of it,” head coach Jim Popp said. “There’s no excuse. We beat ourselves today.

“You have to give them credit. They didn’t have to come here and play the way they did but we gave them a lot today.”

Josh Neiswander, making his fourth straight start, looked shaky early on, intercepted on Montreal’s first series at the club’s own 27-yard line and run back for 17 yards. Winnipeg would turn it into a field goal.

A Troy Smith fumble on a third-and-one sneak later in the opening quarter snubbed a promising drive. With just over a minute left, Sean Whyte fumbled and recovered for a13-yard loss, giving the Bombers the ball on the Alouettes 30 and ultimately putting the visitors up 10-0 after 15 minutes.

“The execution part of our offence wasn’t very good, starting with me. I’ve got to be better. The ball security wasn’t very good and that starts with me, too,” Neiswander acknowledged. “Any team that has as many turnovers as we had, you’re never going to win games.”

He would be replaced in the second quarter by Smith for a few series – partly an existing plan to get the latter in and partly to change things up, said Popp – before returning late in the half.

“You try to handle it like a professional. Whether you like it or not, doesn’t make a difference. Decisions are made and it’s your job as a player to handle it the right way,” said Neiswander.

Smith picked up his first CFL touchdown pass during his stint, finding S.J. Green in the end zone for the receiver’s 10th of the season, matching a career high. Neiswander put the Alouettes ahead in his return on a one-yard run by Tyrell Sutton and Whyte added to the lead before Winnipeg pulled even with touchdown with just 15 seconds left in the second quarter.

“As a professional, it’s hard to swallow any loss, especially what we’re trying to do over here,” defensive back Jerald Brown said. “We’re not worried about who we’re playing or their record. We’ve been in all games this season. One thing we have to do is finish.”

Two more field goals from Whyte in the third quarter – including a 48-yarder that just made it through the uprights – sandwiched a Blue Bombers touchdown. He would add another to put the Alouettes on top one final time before Winnipeg struck again for a major midway through the fourth quarter.

Three games remain on the regular season schedule, including a crucial home-and-home with the Tiger-Cats that opens on Sunday in what could very well – and most likely will – be the Alouettes’ final game at Molson Stadium this year.

While Winnipeg kept its slim playoff hopes alive against Montreal, all it takes is two points gained by the Alouettes or lost by the Blue Bombers to extend the Alouettes’ season. And while the odds of a post-season berth slipping from their grasp seem unlikely, that they haven’t taken advantage of previous opportunities is a bit of a worry.

“What I do have a concern with – and we’re faced with this next week – is that we’ve had chances this season to be tied for first and we didn’t win that game,” noted Popp. “We had chances to be tied for second and we didn’t win that game. Here we had a chance to clinch a playoff spot and continue in the search for first place in our division and we didn’t get it done – all on our home field.

“We all have to look ourselves in the mirror and wonder why, and improve on that for us to have a real shot at hosting a playoff game and even making a run through the playoffs once we make it.”

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