During his first five seasons in the Canadian Football League, John Bowman and the Alouettes went to the Grey Cup four times. The veteran rush end believed it was the organization’s destiny to continually play for championships.
Now, with the Als returning to the playoffs after missing them the previous four years, he realizes nothing’s guaranteed.
“Just to get back is an accomplishment, getting a chance to play for the Cup,” the 37-year-old said Wednesday.
That doesn’t mean Bowman, in what’s believed to be his final pro season, has any pangs of anxiety or will approach Sunday’s East Division semifinal against Edmonton differently.
“It should have special meaning, but it doesn’t,” he admitted. “It’s going to sound generic, but I approach every week the same. If you have extra gas in the tank or fuel in the fire for playoff week, you’ve been cheating me for the other 20 weeks of the season.”
If this is the end for Bowman after 14 seasons, he’s going out in style following another stellar year that included a team-high eight quarterback sacks. On Wednesday, he was one of nine Montreal players named to the division all-star team. Bowman has been selected to the squad annually since 2012.
“We’ve messed up a lot this year, but there’s no finger-pointing or yelling. It’s been very minimal,” he said. “We own up to our mistakes. We don’t lie to each other on the field. We have each other’s back.”
Although the Als won 10 games — the first time since 2012 they have produced a winning record — they also allowed six more points than they scored. Montreal allowed an average of nearly 27 points per game along with an average of 407.5 yards.
That’s a lot of points and yards, and it might lead to the Als’ undoing against the Eskimos and veteran quarterback Trevor Harris. Edmonton surrendered a league-low 25 sacks, while Montreal had a league-low 27 sacks.
“I feel like there’s been plenty of games where we’ve held guys to well below their average. It’s about doing enough to win, and we’ve been fortunate enough to win some games,” Bowman said. “If you start in negative territory (over midfield) a few times, of course they’re going to get short possessions and score touchdowns.
“Our job is to go out there and win. They can score 60. If we score 61 and hold them, that’s it.”
Harris is notorious for being a timing quarterback with a quick release and, at times, a two-step drop. While Edmonton won the season-opening game against Montreal at Commonwealth Stadium, the Als held them to 10 points in a victory at Molson Stadium on July 20. While Harris passed for 271 yards, he also was intercepted twice, Montreal disrupting his rhythm. The visitors were held to three field goals and a single. It was one of the Als’ best defensive performances this season.
“It’s not all about sacks,” Bowman said. “It’s about pressure, getting him off his spot, getting him into regular throws. We forced his first few interceptions last time.”
Rookie CFL defensive co-ordinator Bob Slowik admitted improvements must be made. He said the Als defensively always are seeking the perfect game and want to shut out opponents, a rarity in this league.
Slowik, a man of few words, certainly won’t tip his hand and divulge what his plans are for Sunday. But last Friday, after Montreal defeated Ottawa, middle-linebacker Henoc Muamba — a huge Slowik advocate — said the coach wouldn’t sleep until he devised a thorough strategy.
“We don’t like giving up yards or points,” Slowik said. “It’s hard to get to Harris because he gets the ball out so quick. But you have to find different ways to affect the quarterback.”
If there’s one thing the Als have improved upon in 2019, it’s their ability to get defensive stops when games are on the line.
“They just rise to the occasion somehow. There’s enough playmakers when the game’s on the line,” Slowik said. “They find a way to get it done. Maybe we can’t do it consistently throughout the game. But for one play, or one series, they find a way.”
Joining Bowman on the division all-star team are: quarterback Vernon Adams Jr., centre Kristian Matte; tailback William Stanback, receiver Eugene Lewis; Muamba; linebacker Patrick Levels and defensive-backs Tommie Campbell and Greg Reid.
Meanwhile, the Als have repatriated veteran defensive-end Gabriel Knapton, putting him on the practice roster. Knapton, 30, spent four full seasons with Montreal. He divided 2018 between B.C. and the Als. He might be pressed into duty if Antonio Simmons, who didn’t finish last Friday’s game, can’t play.