Cleo Lemon won’t have his best pal in the Argonauts backfield to hand the football to on Sunday.
But the importance of the game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the Rogers Centre doesn’t lessen, especially considering that the Argos had prepared all week as though the post-season opener was approaching.
“We’re making our push right now and we need a victory,” said Lemon, who will try to get by without Cory Boyd as the running back recovers from a concussion. “That’s how we have treated it this week, like it’s a playoff game.”
Why is a game in September between a 5-5 club, the Argos, and one that’s 3-7 so crucial? If the Argos win, they’ll inflict some serious damage on the Bombers’ playoff hopes.
Toronto won in Winnipeg in Week 2, and another victory on Sunday would ensure the Argos a season-series win against their East Division rivals. The Bombers have lost their season series against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, so a loss against the Argos likely would mean that any playoff dream would have to be realized in a cross-over game against a West Division foe.
Despite the apparently dire consequence of a loss, Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice wasn’t putting much stock in it. If the Bombers win, they would be just two points behind the Argos, making the final game involving both teams, Oct. 23 in Winnipeg, rather large.
“It’s against an Eastern opponent that’s four points ahead of us,” LaPolice said. “We can get two points and they can’t. That will help your cause dramatically to get closer to the playoffs.
“I never say things are must-wins until they are must-wins.”
The Bombers squashed the inconsistent Saskatchewan Roughriders 31-2 last week, becoming only the second CFL team since 2005 to hold an opponent to two points or less (the other was the Montreal Alouettes, who shut out the Argos 25-0 last August). But the Bombers have not won on the road in 2010, going 0-5. It’s a mark of perfect imperfection that LaPolice wants to wipe off the board.
“We want to prove to people we can win back-to-back games,” LaPolice said.
Of course, there are no guarantees with the Argos. They’ve stumbled badly in recent weeks, losing all three of their games after waxing the Alouettes at the Rogers Centre in mid-August. Penalties and turnovers have helped lead to the tumble back to .500.
Toronto, overall, has cut down on penalties, taking 80 through 10 games after they had been flagged 120 times through the first 10 last year. But 33 flags have come in the past three outings.
In this case, statistics mean something.
“We’re 5-5,” head coach Jim Barker said. “We’ve learned how to win and we’ve learned how to lose. Now we’re making our stretch run, and either we have learned (to stop doing harmful things) or we haven’t. We’re going to find out (on Sunday) where we are with that.
“We have taken far too many special teams penalties the past two weeks and we need to improve on that. We have the best returner in the league (in Chad Owens) and we need to make sure we don’t bring his returns back.
“We understand the importance of this game, with a team that is just a couple of points behind us, and that this game will have huge playoff implications.”
One good sign for the Argos? They were crisp and committed during practice this week.
“When we practise well, we have a good game,” free safety Willie Pile said. “When we have not-so-good practices, we have had to scratch and claw. We have had an excellent week of practice.”