What went wrong?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:25 PM ET

Anybody seen that paved road to glory the Edmonton Eskimos were supposed to be using for their 2005 championship march?

With Ricky Ray back in the fold and management throwing money at free agents like it was rice at a wedding, this year was supposed to be something special.

So what happened to the best team money can buy?

Surely the master plan didn't call for them to be standing around in Week 8, with bewildered looks on their red faces, wondering what's going wrong.

But there they were, one game away from the halfway point of the season, trying to figure out, like everybody at the game was, how they lost at home to a team that managed nine first downs and 11 receptions.

"We feel like we've had great chances to win the last two games,'' said Ray, arm-weary and frustrated in a pair of losses to B.C. and Toronto. "But a penalty here and a turnover there is really starting to get to us. We got away with it early in the season, but now it's starting to catch up with us against good football teams. They're starting to take advantage of it.''

Indeed. As the season moves along and the quality of opponent gets tougher, it almost seems like the Eskimos are getting worse, not better.

To wit: In the first half of the last two games they scored a grand total of four points. They haven't led in a football game since July 30.

In the last two games, they've lost the turnover battle 9-1.

In the last two games, their secondary has been scorched for 89- and 90- yard TD passes, 46- and 50-yard receptions and 39- and 37-yard pass interference calls that set up scores.

101 PASSING PLAYS

In the last two games their offence has called 101 passing plays and handed the ball to Elvis Joseph eight times - for 22 yards.

The second-worst run defence in the league comes to town, a team that drops everyone back to cover the pass, and you throw it 57 times and hand it off eight? Geez, I wonder why the offence struggled?

It's a miracle Ray has been as effective as he has been, given that everyone in the building knows what he's going to do, but he expected more from himself and his team through the first eight games.

"I need to get better,'' he said. "I'm turning the ball over a little bit more than I should be and making some mental mistakes out there that I normally don't make. But it's a team game. We all need to take a look at ourselves and get refocused.''

SAME MANTRA

While the Esks can't stress enough that they're still 5-3 - the same mantra they were repeating at 5-1 and 5-2 - and that it doesn't matter how you look in August, only how you play in November, there's no more avoiding the truth: this team is full of holes.

They may not be as bad as they look (God, let's hope not), but they're definitely not as good as everyone thought they were at the start of the season.

"We're all athletes,'' said cornerback Malcolm Frank. "Ottawa gets paid, Winnipeg gets paid, Toronto gets paid. You can't just go out there and think you're going to win a game. You have to execute and you have to play.''

Harder and smarter than they have been. And never mind the cop-out about all the high-priced new talent needing time to develop a chemistry.

"That's got nothing to do with it,'' said Frank.

"Nobody was talking about new faces when we were 3-0.

"That's BS. I'm not going to make any excuses. We've got to play better.''

Soon. Home field in the West final is almost out of reach and if they're not careful, home field in the West semi could be in jeopardy. And remember all the bristling the Eskimos did in July, when people had the audacity to suggest they hadn't beaten anyone yet?

Well, it's late August and they still haven't. That's something they also need to remedy in a hurry.


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