Panic time for Argonauts as they drop ball to Blue Bombers
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
|The Blue Bombers celebrate a second-half touchdown in Friday's 44-32 victory over the Argos at the Rogers Centre. (Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun)
TORONTO - It’s panic time in Argoland where suddenly the post-season is no longer a certainty.
So much will depend on whether the Argos can get their act together in the final two games of the regular season and if Hamilton rediscovers its passion.
As of today, the 5-11 Winnipeg Blue Bombers are playing as close to anything worthy of the playoffs, which, above everything else, is a sad indictment on the East.
Officially, the Montreal Alouettes will now play host to the East final.
After that, it’s anyone’s guess, other than the fact a crossover grows more realistic with each passing week.
With so much that needs mending, the Argos don’t even know where to turn following a very regrettable 44-32 loss to Winnipeg on Friday night.
Ricky Ray did all he could in his return, and then some, but he can’t provide run defence and can’t help Chad Owens hold on to the football. Owens, who simply tries to do too much, often putting himself and his team in peril, fumbled two more times.
At 7-9, the Argos have now lost three in a row, all at home, and have looked brutal in each one, taking turns on either side of the ball.
Depending on what Hamilton does in Calgary on Saturday and likely in next week’s swan song to Ivor Wynne, Toronto’s season finale on Nov. 1 against the Ticats may wind up seeing the winner moving on to play host to the East semifinal or the loser going home to a long off-season.
Simply put, the Argos’ defence was an embarrassment against the Blue Bombers, playing to a level not seen in years.
Offensively, the Argos clearly scored enough points, but when you can’t stop the run or play-action, or make a play on the ball in the back end, you don’t deserve to win.
Right now, the Argos don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.
“We talked about not giving up on our dream this season,’’ said head coach Scott Milanovich. “It’s been a tough run, there’s no question about it. It’s been hard on all of us, but you’re only as good as your last game and we haven’t played our last game.”
Until they review the carnage, it was impossible to glean what went wrong against a Bombers offence than ran for 260 yards, a staggering number by any standard.
In last week’s loss to Montreal, the Als gashed the Argos along the ground on cutback runs.
As fast and as athletic as they are, the Argos’ defenders are almost too fast and become vulnerable when over-pursuing and disjointed when gaps are not filled.
“I think we have a great defence,’’ added Milanovich, his words somewhat hollow given what had just unfolded. “I was certainly shocked when (the Bombers) were able to execute as well as they did.”
The Argos defence was unable to contain the edge, incapable of wrapping up and virtually defenceless any time the second level was attacked.
Chris Jones’ defence got completely exposed, the system’s emphasis on undersized ends was overmatched.
Backup QB Alex Brink, in particular, was a pain, running routine plays off right tackle and scoring three TDs, as the Bombers took a 34-22 lead with five minutes to play.
And even when the middle of the defence was attacked, the Argos had little in the way of a response.
Part of the appeal to sign Adriano Belli was the presence he provided on the front wall. But the self-anointed Kissing Bandit had a better chance of planting one on a teammate than he had at making a tackle.
Down the field the Bombers would march, controlling the clock as if it were the NFL and not the quick-strike CFL, running the ball at will when the Argos had no way to defend it.
And when pressure was applied on a passing down, Buck Pierce stood tall and delivered, despite some brutal shots.
Almost as shocking was Toronto’s decision to defer after winning the coin toss, a move that backfield as Winnipeg jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, then make it 14-0 following an Owens fumble.
But with Ray, the Argos are never out of it. As bad as Toronto’s run defence played, the Bombers secondary was just as wretched, yielding big play after big play after big play.
In the second quarter alone, Ray threw three deep balls for touchdowns.
This was after the Argos ran all of four plays in the opening quarter, two in the quarter’s final 12 seconds.
It was so pathetic, some Argos actually posed when a rare play on defence was made, an act of selfishness that pretty much has been allowed to fester for far too long this season.