Noted film critic Don Matthews issued a five-star review yesterday when he watched the Baltimore CFLs' latest adventure epic.
The flags were frightful, but the result delightful.
"We're delighted with how the team is playing," the Baltimore coach said of Friday night's 22-16 victory over Las Vegas. "The team is playing hard. It was fun watching the film. There were so many good things."
Forget the six-point spread. And overlook, for the moment, the 11 penalties worth 101 yards that kept Baltimore in near-constant backpedal.
According to Matthews, the CFLs (10-4) played even better in beating Las Vegas (5-9) than they did in a 40-13 blowout of Ottawa a week ago. A lot of that had to do with the competition. The Posse may be a lame duck in Las Vegas, but it's a viable expansion entry in the Canadian Football League.
What did Matthews like?
You could start with the defense. Reinforced by the return of linebacker Ken Benson from injury, the CFLs gave up a season-low 47 rushing yards. That on five fewer carries than Baltimore had (generating 160 ground yards).
As well as Benson played -- he had six tackles -- it was no assurance that he'll start next Sunday against the defending Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos. He replaced strong-side linebacker Matt Goodwin, who missed the game with a shoulder sprain but is expected back next week.
Benson likely will share time at middle linebacker with Malcolm Goodwin, who forced a critical Las Vegas fumble in the final two minutes.
Although they gave up 333 passing yards, the CFLs haven't surrendered a 400-yard total offense game in eight weeks.
And even though they failed to get a sack for the second straight week, they had pressure on Anthony Calvillo. It came from rush end Elfrid Payton, whose seven delivery sacks -- hitting the quarterback as he released the ball -- beat double-teams.
On offense, Mike Pringle rushed to his fourth consecutive 100-yard game, getting 133 to increase his season total to 1,444.
Quarterback Tracy Ham revived a passing game that hadn't topped 200 yards in either of the past two weeks. Ham threw for 283 yards with two touchdowns. He also had two interceptions, one on a tipped ball, the other on an underthrow.
Of Ham's 18 completions, nine went to slotbacks, six to running backs and three to wide-outs. Matthews said the Posse's zone )) coverages made it difficult for Ham to go outside.
Ham twice was denied another touchdown pass in the third quarter. A holding penalty on guard Guy Earle wiped out an 11-yard scoring throw to Peter Tuipulotu. Two plays later, wide-out Walter Wilson dropped a pass at the 7 on what would have been a certain score.
Special teams? For the first time in three weeks, the CFLs didn't block a punt. But they did recover a fumbled Las Vegas kickoff -- Lester Smith forced; Malcolm Goodwin recovered.
Smith contributed 71 yards in punt returns and 18 on one kickoff to total 89 return yards. Each week, he gets closer to breaking his first touchdown.
"He heads up the field with reckless abandon, making the first guy miss," Matthews said. "He's really coming on as a player."
On the flip side, there were the penalties. In one unreal sequence in the third quarter, the CFLs offense drew flags on four consecutive plays. The series ended with tackle Neal Fort being called for holding -- and then being held back by his teammates as he tried to reach the official after what appeared a very poor call.
"I thought they were going to penalize us right out of the back end of the stadium," Matthews said.
Even though Las Vegas was penalized only twice, Matthews refused to criticize the officiating -- "I'll get fined," he said.
NOTES: Matthews has given the team an unprecedented three days off. There's no practice until Tuesday. . . . Of increasing concern are the slippery field conditions at Memorial Stadium. CFL defenders Karl Anthony and Ken Watson slipped on the Posse's two longest pass plays of the game. "The field's the same for both teams, but it's difficult for our style because we play man-to-man," Matthews said.