Argos are on the edge

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

As bad as it may seem for the Argos, it could be worse.

Were it not for the fact they accumulated a few victories earlier in the season, they would be in their annual plight of fighting for a playoff spot in the final six games of the season.

As it is, the Argos are still alone in second in the East. With Hamilton and Ottawa both dealing with their own issues, it's not life-and-death time for Toronto.

With Hamilton's 32-30 loss to Saskatchewan yesterday at Ivor Wynne Stadium, Toronto retains its two-point lead over the Tiger-Cats and have a game in hand. The Renegades, who eked out a 26-24 victory over the hapless Calgary Stampeders on Friday, are last in the East, trailing Toronto by three points and have played one more game.

Combined with the fact the Argos have a relatively kind schedule -- two of their six remaining games are against Calgary and four are at home -- there is reason to look at the rest of the regular season with a positive outlook.

Having said that, let's look at the current situation.

The Argos have one win in their past three games and blew a 20-3 lead en route to a 44-34 loss to Winnipeg on Saturday. There were rumbles out of Winnipeg that following the game, some Argo players engaged in a heated verbal confrontation. There were also suggestions head coach Pinball Clemons urged his players after the brouhaha to show some leadership.

At this time last year, Clemons had to hold his team together after the league took control of the Argos from owner Sherwood Schwarz. Now it appears as if Clemons will have to use all of his leadership skills to keep the team on track again --even with healthy ownership.

Yes, the team has suffered some injuries and has been victimized by questionable officiating, but all teams experience this at some point. It's part of the game and shouldn't be used as excuses.

The Argos believe they will be helped when injured quarterback Damon Allen returns, likely for the Thanksgiving game against the B.C. Lions. But a team's state of mind shouldn't be predicated on one player, even if it happens to be the quarterback. Allen's replacement, Michael Bishop, looked strong in his first start, but has sputtered in his past three games and has benbenched for parts of two.

After Bishop's latest effort, Clemons was asked if he had concerns about his quarterback's struggles. Clemons said he would be more concerned if it had been Week 13 in the season and Bishop had started since Week 1. But Bishop hasn't progressed consistently as a starter, certainly not the way B.C.'s Casey Printers and Winnipeg's Kevin Glenn have. Both are making strong cases to be full-time starters, regardless of the long-term health of the players they've replaced.

But Bishop isn't the only underachiever. High-priced running back John Avery has struggled, sometimes because he hasn't received blocking or been put in a position to excel in space, although he has made numerous, frustrating mistakes.

And with Toronto's defence showing repeated vulnerability against the run -- notwithstanding claims that some players are being held repeatedly without any calls -- the Argos have lost the bonding glue that held the team together.

And special teams has shown alternate signs of being very good and very bad. A punt return that produced a touchdown against Winnipeg with eight seconds to go in the second quarter became a wash when the Bombers ran back the ensuing kickoff for a TD. It was questionable strategy by the Argos, who should have never put the ball in the hands of ace returner Keith Stokes.

While it contributed to the latest loss, all is not lost for the Argos. All that matters is how they finish in the stretch run.


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