Cup quality

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:35 AM ET

The defending Grey Cup champions went out against the Montreal Alouettes and played the Grey Cup game again.

After playing like turkeys so often this season, who expected the Edmonton Eskimos to show up on Thanksgiving and soar like an eagle.

Not many were looking at this as a Grey Cup preview. Even fewer expected to see a Grey Cup replay. But it was.

Right down to a late-second-quarter swoon and a huge game by Grey Cup MVP Jason Tucker, the much-maligned 2003 title team took the noose off their necks with a 39-19 win that means more than the two points it provided for the standings and a return to .500 into a second-place tie with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

"It brings this team back together," said head coach Tom Higgins of his coming-apart-at-the-seams team. "It's a huge confidence booster."

Eskimos CEO Hugh Campbell added, "The confidence means more than anything. The two points certainly could help us, but the two points were not as vital as playing well and getting our game going again."

WIN IN SASKATCHEWAN

The win doesn't guarantee anything. It just makes next Sunday in Taylor Field the biggest non-playoff game in ages for an Eskimo team.

It's real simple with a win in Saskatchewan.

Beat the Roughriders Sunday and the Eskimos not only clinch a 33rd consecutive season in the playoffs, but home-field advantage for the West semifinal, as well.

Lose and it gets complicated.

Saskatchewan could end up with their first home playoff game since 1988, but have to win it by 25 points to do it on the day (and win the season series). Otherwise the Eskimos would need to lose to Winnipeg back in Edmonton the following weekend, or Saskatchewan win their last game of the season against the B.C. Lions.

A loss to Saskatchewan Sunday and the noose would be back around the Eskimos' neck. Then they'd need to beat Winnipeg or put their fate in the hands of the Calgary Stampeders to go into Winnipeg and beat the Bombers in the last weekend of the season with the Eskimos sitting at home on a bye week, not knowing if their season was over or not.

All that is stuff for the Eskimos to chew on during the week.

Yesterday it just felt good to look like a Grey Cup type of team again.

"After losing three straight, this was as satisfying a win as I've had in my career," pronounced quarterback Jason Maas.

"The quarterbacks and coach (Danny) Maciocia spent a lot of time on putting the plan together this week. A lot of time. That's what makes it feel so good. We had a good game plan and then we went out and executed it. Execution is what beats that team.

"Our defence shut things down to 19 points, and every time they gave us a turnover we scored. It was a very satisfying win."

Maas produced 546 net yards and threw four touchdown passes, including an 85-yard first-play bomb to Tucker after Donny Brady's first of two interceptions on the day. Tucker, who dropped three straight passes at the start of the Hamilton game last week after having come down with dropsy the week before in losing to Toronto, had a huge night to return to form.

He caught six for 188 yards.

Maas said Tucker's drops came when he had his feet on the ground.

"Tuck is amazing in the air," he said.

This game, that's where he threw them.

"It was an excellent effort," said Higgins.

"We made more plays than they did. Everyone stepped up," he added.

Stepping up for an interception and a fumble recovery was Quincy Coleman.

"All week we concentrated on a plan to be aggressive," said Coleman.

It's usually Montreal with the attack defence, but the Eskimos went into this one knowing the defence was going to have to get it done.

"We came out aggressive," said defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall. "We took advantage of our opportunities.

"We had a little bit of a hiccup in the last couple of minutes of the first half," he said of allowing two Montreal touchdowns to put the Alouettes back in the game.

REMEMBER THE GREY CUP

"In the dressing room I told our guys, 'I remember a game a lot like this last year - the Grey Cup game.' And we did the same thing we did in the Grey Cup. We came back out and settled down.

"The best part of this is that we now go to Saskatchewan for the biggest game of the season, feeling good about ourselves again."

Higgins gave special credit to Chris Morris who played hurt on the offensive line where Kevin Lefsrud also went from D- to B+ in his second game as centre replacing Tim Prinsen.

"Chris Morris is one of the toughest individuals I've ever seen around pro football," said the head coach. "It was a heroic effort."

Bottom line?

"We can smile for a while," said Higgins.

Not a long while. This one doesn't mean diddly without another one to go with it.


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