TORONTO -- Almost all of his teammates were gone, but Mike O'Shea, still in full uniform, leaned on his locker yesterday, trying to come to grips with fact he and the Toronto Argonauts will not compete for the Grey Cup next month.
"It's very hard to figure out where it all started to unravel," said the veteran linebacker, with tears in his eyes. "If I could pinpoint it, I would make every effort ... Coach (Don) Matthews comes in, and there is that reassurance you are going to win the Grey Cup.
"We're not going to, and it's not even November yet. It's a strange feeling -- not something I am used to, not something I like."
The fate of the Argos in 2008 became official at the Rogers Centre late yesterday afternoon, but their seventh consecutive CFL loss didn't unfold as many thought it might.
The Argos gave the Montreal Alouettes, already the regular-season East Division champions, a good run in a 43-34 loss, but penalties tripped up the home side. Thirteen times the Argos were whistled for transgressions, resulting in 131 yards against and six Alouettes first downs.
The Argos defence, for which Matthews has not had the Midas touch, couldn't stop Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo from another solid performance.
Calvillo threw for four touchdowns, for 42 on the season, and 336 yards. It meant little Kerry Joseph became the first Argos quarterback since 2005 to throw for 400 yards -- he hit 400 spot on before a crowd of 30,262, and his three touchdowns passes account for one-third of his total this season.
"I would trade the stats for a win in a heartbeat," Joseph said. "We have been scratching and fighting for a win and to drop seven straight has been tough on everybody. I don't even know the last time I had seven straight losses.
"It's tough. You come into the season to get into the post-season."
Arland Bruce caught a 12-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the season. Andre Talbot caught a 19-yard TD pass on the Argos' first drive after Will Poole picked off Calvillo, and, in the fourth quarter, quarterback-turned-receiver Reggie McNeal caught a 91-yard pass for a TD and the Argos' longest reception this year.
The game was close, but with less than five minutes left, Brian Bratton scampered past Kenny Heatly for a 36-yard touchdown to finally kill the Argos' playoff hopes.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers clinched second in the East with the Argos' loss.
"My true disappointment is we had 13 penalties that probably cost us the game," Matthews said. "You can say they were game-changers, but that team battled for 60 damn minutes, and I am proud of every one of them.
"They know what they were up against."
The Argos have two games remaining -- in B.C. against the Lions Saturday, and Oct. 30 at home versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders -- but the questions already have started for 2009.
Joseph said the club holds an option on him for '09 but added he wants to come back.
Matthews refused to say if he wants to return, but several players said they believe he does.
It should be noted, however, the Argos were 4-6 when Rich Stubler was fired Sept. 9 and in a playoff spot.