Have Argos lost Cup edge?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

The words came from Michael Clemons, the tone barely audible, the sounds of his voice saying loudly what his nouns and verbs would not.

It's over.

The edge is gone from this championship Argonauts team. The defence of their Grey Cup title clearly is in peril.

He was saying it without saying it, because it's not his nature to be negative, because he's the head coach, but all you had to do was read his body language to know.

All you had to do was see the sadness in his eyes to understand the Argos are in a free fall.

"We don't play unless somebody's got their foot on our throats," Arland Bruce III muttered after yesterday's self-destructive 17-13 defeat in front of the largest regular-season home crowd in more than a decade (34,116).

Memo to Argos players: That foot on your throat yesterday was your own.

For the third time in the past six weeks, the Argos beat the Argos. They are becoming rather adept at defeating themselves. It's the rest of the CFL with which they're having trouble.

"They didn't stop us," quarterback Damon Allen said. "We stopped us. Ain't nobody panicking over here."

Maybe they should be.

In no particular order on Thanksgiving Monday, there was little reason for celebration: The Argos scored a touchdown that wasn't, had a punt blocked, gave up a punt return for a score, got caught for pass interference in the end zone, got called three times for unsportsmanlike conduct, and lined up in the wrong formation on what should have been the tying touchdown.

This doesn't happen to teams on the rise, only to those on the decline. This doesn't happen to the champion that thinks it can be champion again.

"A game like that," Clemons said, "is hard to understand. "We don't want to stumble into the playoffs."

But stumbling they happen to be. The past six weeks have been all too telling for a team nearing the verge of collapse. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss. The pendulum swings. "That means," Clemons said, "we're due for one."

The Argos are a first-place team that just doesn't happen to look like one anymore. The stars are all in place. This basically is the same bunch that won the Grey Cup. Last year you could feel it. This year, nothing.

The Argos are tied with the Montreal Alouettes for first in the East, having blown a two-game lead along the way.

"If you had told me we'd be tied for the top after 14 games, we'd take that. But if you asked me if we'd take an 8-6 record, the answer would be no," the coach said.

There is an old Don Matthews expression about football teams he likes to throw out at times such as this: There are only two kinds of teams, Matthews tends to lecture, those getting better and those getting worse.

His Montreal team is getting better. The Argos complete the sentence but the way things are going for them, would be penalized on the play for poor grammar.

They say they made simple mistakes. All of them were simple mistakes, composure mistakes, coverage mistakes, formation mistakes. Take your pick.

Running back John Avery runs into the end zone on what he believes is the tying score only to find out the Argos failed to have a left tackle lined up on the play. That came after he fumbled away an opportunity the quarter before.

Receiver Robert Baker makes a series of terrific plays then fails to tuck in the ball after a catch with the Argos driving for the go-ahead score.

Then Jonathan Brown, who was nothing short of terrific at defensive end yesterday, goes offside on a defensive stop the Argos need to make to still have a chance.

When the best players are making the biggest mistakes it's time to turn out the lights on a championship defence. It's time for more than concern.

"We've been in every game," Pinball Clemons said in a whisper , forever trying to put on a happy face. But he couldn't do it on this day.

He couldn't and his team couldn't.


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