TORONTO - Some random thoughts and observations following the Argonauts' 37-30 loss against the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night, a setback that undoubtedly took some stuffing out of the Argos' confidence with the playoffs just around the corner:
The question that could be bothering Argos head coach Jim Barker is whether the mental breakdown by quarterback Cleo Lemon really can be attributed to rookie errors or is an indication of Lemon's true on-field nature.
We're talking about the interceptions late in the game, of course, that conspired to snatch victory from the Argos. Barker was right when he said that Lemon took some steps before the final play of the third quarter, when he lobbed the ball into the end zone and it was picked by Montreal's Mark Estelle. But a couple of touchdown passes were sullied by Lemon's inability to think on his feet. If he makes the same mistakes again, what does that say about his future in the Canadian Football League?
Barker has said that the Argos will go only as far as Lemon takes them, and after the bad decision that led to the first interception, does anyone really think Lemon can help get the Argos to the Grey Cup in four weeks? Barker also has said numerous times that this season marks one of evaluation of all of his players, and though everyone wants to make the playoffs, for the Argos, it's not much more than a bonus. Yes, Lemon is 8-8 as a rookie in the CFL, which is good, but the Argos remain a team that has to rely on getting points from other areas to win. The Argos aren't going to the playoffs because Lemon has led them there.
There was disappointment from the coaching staff in the performance of the defence and not just because the Alouettes moved the football at will in the fourth quarter. Kerry Watkins had an 11-yard gain in the first half because Jordan Younger and Matt Black couldn't tackle him, and there were other times when Argos defenders were clawing at thin air. The eye-opener, from Barker's view, was when the Als took the ball 99 yards on a drive in the fourth quarter that lasted nine minutes, 23 seconds. The Als had to leave the field with only an 11-yard field goal by Damon Duval, but the defence, had it been doing its job, would have stopped the drive much earlier. And though Barker had been happy before the game that the defence had not been giving up big plays, a 61-yard catch by Jamel Richardson in the first quarter not only helped set up a touchdown but was Richardson's longest play of the season.
THANKS, I GUESS
Chad Owens apparently doesn't hate everything about his former team. Owens recovered beautifully from a fumble on his first punt return of the game, and ended with a total of 294 return yards. The Flyin' Hawaiian has been nothing short of spectacular, and should set two Argos records in the season finale. Owens has 1,060 punt return yards this year, 10 fewer than the record of 1,070, set by Pinball Clemons in 1997; and Owens has 1,216 kickoff return yards, just 41 short of tying Dominique Dorsey, who had 1,257 in 2008, for the franchise mark. Yet one weird play, or reaction to a play, stood out on Friday night. Owens looked like he was going to take a punt return back for a touchdown in the second quarter. But out of nowhere sped the Als' Chip Cox, who tackled Owens at the Montreal 20-yard line. We're all for sportsmanship, but when Owens jumped up and hugged Cox, it was a little much. The congratulatory nuzzle could have waited until the end of the game.
ONE SMALL STEP …
Safety Willie Pile was beating himself up a bit after the game for a miscue that cost Owens a touchdown on another punt return. Owens had nothing but open field in front of him when Pile was flagged for an illegal block on Kerry Carter, and the major was called back. But the Argos then did something they would not have earlier in the season — they shrugged the penalty off, and started at their 53-yard line. A handful of plays later, Cory Boyd rumbled for a 33-yard touchdown. That the Boatmen could recover from the negated TD was a small sign of progress.
FORGET ABOUT IT
A win is a win, but it's possible the Argos planted a small seed of doubt in the minds of the defending Grey Cup champions. This Montreal team is not the ruthless machine it was a year ago, and even though it was loaded for bear after getting pasted by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats a week previously, could not put the Argos away on their own terms. Whether the Als, who will play host to the Argos or Ticats in the East final on Nov. 21, rest any starters against Toronto next Sunday remains to be seen, but this is not a team that is firing on all cylinders heading into the playoffs.