Breathing a bit easier

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:43 AM ET

After ugly wins over Hamilton and Winnipeg, and uglier losses to Toronto and B.C., the Edmonton Eskimos were starting to look like that limbless Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

One-dimensional play calling had chopped the legs out from under their running game, and opposition defences, cheating against the pass, had little trouble cutting Ricky Ray's passing arm down to size.

The Green and Gold knights were overmatched, but defiant to a fault. "It's just a flesh wound,'' they assured us. "We're still 5-1.''

"Doesn't hurt a bit. We're still 5-2.''

"What's this? Tis but a scratch. We're still 5-3.''

It was a valiant attempt to save face - pretty much the only extremity they had left after being humbled by the east and west division leaders. But you had to dig awfully deep into the fan club to find anyone who bought it.

With Montreal in town and management already making changes at key positions, everyone in Edmonton, including the Eskimos, knew they had to stop the bleeding.

"We needed a win, bad,'' admitted Ray, one of many Eskimos breathing heavy sighs of relief after the 36-26 decision over the Als. "The last time we won a game seemed like a long time ago.''

WHAT IF ...

July 30 is a long time ago, but it would have seemed like a heartbeat compared with 10 days of nuclear fallout that would have rained down on them between a third-straight loss and Labour Day.

Now they can breathe easy. Well, easier.

"It was difficult for some of the young guys,'' defensive end Joe Montford said of the Eskimo slump and ensuing scrutiny. "We knew we hadn't been playing well the last couple of weeks. A lot of times when you get young guys out there, you have to tell them, 'Look, it's a long season, calm down. You were built to play this game, just go out and do what you do.' ''

It's a little rose-coloured to suggest all is fixed, and all that worry was for nothing.

SCORCHED TO A CRISP

Friday was largely a case of receiver Jason Tucker scorching Alouette DB Taqiy Muhammad, in his very first CFLgame, to a crisp. Tucker lit the kid up for 214 yards, a touchdown and big gains that set up two other majors.

They won't always have a pigeon like that to pluck, but give them credit for seeking out and exploiting a weakness.

"We did a great job of getting into a rhythm and executing the game plan,'' said Ray, who threw for 438 yards. "It's huge to get a win like this heading into the Labour Day games, when football gets serious.''

Not that Friday night wasn't serious. When a team changes kickers and runningbacks in mid-season, it means the brass is worried. The win at least bought them time to work things out.

On the ground, tailback Ron McClendon was good, not great, with 36 of his 69 rushing yards coming late in the fourth quarter. But there was at last some balance in Edmonton's attack, reason for a defence to pause a split second before pinning back the ears and coming after Ray. That split second is all he and Tucker needed to work some much-needed magic.

"The difference was night and day,'' said head coach Danny Maciocia, who finally moved past the Drop-Back-and-Throw section of his playbook.

"That's more like me. We were running, used play action, short and intermediate routes, full sprints, a couple of draws, shovels - that's a lot for a defence to take in and try to handle. When we're doing stuff like that, we're pretty good. But we hadn't done it and I realized that.

"Maybe this is a step toward us playing that type of football week in and week out.''

At the very least, Friday night heals some of those flesh wounds a bit and lets the Esks point to that 6-3 record without having it sound like an alibi.

"If I'm grading our season at the halfway mark,'' said Montford. "I'd say effort is an A and smartness, probably a C-. We're not very smart yet, but it's only halfway, we can still get smarter.''


Videos

Photos