Still not satisfied

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

The magic number is down to one.

With four weeks left in the regular season, it now appears impossible for the Edmonton Eskimos to miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

Sure, they're still in last place in the CFL West, but they're only two points back of first place.

No point in lowering expectations now, suggested quarterback Ricky Ray. No player on any pro team has ever been quoted before a game saying 'We expect to lose this game.'

It's win or die trying. Nailing down a playoff spot is an improvement, but what possible satisfaction could there be in aiming for fourth?

Finishing first means a much easier path to Earl Grey's mug.

"When you can play one game at home to get to the Grey Cup, that's huge," Ray said yesterday.

"As much as we're excited that we're almost in the playoffs, we're still trying to get into first place."

First place, second place, crossover.

From the players' perspective, there's a difference. As the Eskimos found out the last two years, you can't win the Grey Cup if you can't make the playoffs.

"Obviously, if you get in, you get in," said Ray with a less than enthusiastic tone. "Definitely, you want to get in, be in the race and get a shot at the Grey Cup."

Guaranteed, no fans will be chanting 'We're No. 4, we're No. 4!' on Halloween night if the Esks wrap up their regular-season schedule at home as the crossover team. The team's expectations are no lower.

Their 31-point second-quarter explosion against Winnipeg on Saturday combined with the way the defence shut down a Bombers squad that arrived at Commonwealth with a three-win swagger leaves the race in doubt.

The Esks showed championship potential that struck killer blows and figured out how to protect the lead.

They looked like a team that's going to take a serious run at grabbing the CFL West title or at least capable of hosting the CFL West semifinal.

All will be sorted out after a home-and-home series with B.C., followed by a trip to Regina before closing out the regular season against Montreal.

It all depends on whether the Esks can keep it going.

"We definitely were due,' said Ray.

"We just played good football all across the board. It started with the faked punt on special teams. Offensively, we were able to score a touchdown. From there, we grabbed the momentum. Our defence got us the turnovers and we were able to score some more points.

"When we're playing all three phases like that, we can do some pretty good things out there. It's just trying to do that week in and week out."

If they can wrap up first place with the toughest stretch-drive schedule of any CFL team, it would send a signal the Eskimos will be no playoff pushovers.

"Against a good team like B.C., you're going to have to play at a high level to match them," said Ray.

Confidence plays a big key in any stretch drive.

"We were as flat as you can possibly imagine in that first quarter," said Esks head coach Danny Maciocia. "I guess confidence kicked in. We put multiple drives together and it just took off.

"We're going to have to put 60 minutes of football together on Friday. I don't think you're going to be able to go there and put up 30 points in one quarter."

The fact the Eskimos are only two points out of first place and two games over .500 makes this situation kinda goofy.

If nothing else, they could still be the best last-place team in CFL history.

With their win on Friday night, the Eskimos have made this stretch drive one of the more potentially compelling in recent memory.


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