WINNIPEG - The stage isn’t as big as last week’s visit to Montreal, the opposition not as lethal, but the stakes are very much similar.
In fact, one can easily make a case that Saturday night’s matchup against the Blue Bombers is as important as last week’s kickoff against the host Als, who took the opening kickoff, drove the length of the field to score the game’s first touchdown and never looked back in pasting the Argos 31-10.
Upon reflection, it’s painfully obvious the Argos weren’t ready to embrace the moment against a Montreal team that has played in more big games on the CFL’s biggest stage than any team in recent history.
If the Argos truly learned a lesson, then it simply must be parlayed in the Peg, where the home side is feeling good about itself following a blowout win over Hamilton.
Certainly, the Argos may yet return to Montreal with a berth in the Grey Cup on the line, but a lot of what lies within the Argos makeup must surface against the Blue Bombers.
Anything short of their best will further erode the Argos confidence, which was poised to strengthen had they been successful last Sunday.
Anything short of a win and all of a sudden so many negative possibilities and thoughts arise.
That’s how thin the Argos margin has become, especially with Ricky Ray nursing a sore left knee.
Whether it’s Jarious Jackson lining up under centre or the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson, the Argos need to end their two-game losing slide and get above the .500 mark as the team closes out the final five games of the season with four being played at home.
“It’s a playoff game for both teams,’’ began Jackson, who makes his starting debut in Double Blue. “Under no circumstance can we take this team lightly.”
And nor should the Argos even remotely be looking past the Blue Bombers, who can play solid football when some kind of rhythm is established, especially on offence.
Had Ray been able to play, the Argos would be clear-cut favourites.
Without Ray, there are no guarantees, other than the obvious involving Jackson and the adjustments the Argos will make to fully take advantage of the veteran’s big arm and mobility.
Jackson’s veteran leadership and experience were the two factors that attracted the Argos.
“The moment won’t be too big for him,’’ assured head coach Scott Milanovich. “He’s on the road, it’s going to be noisy, that’s why you bring in a guy like him. I expect him to play well and lead his team.”
For what it’s worth, Milanovich said Jackson had his best practice day on Thursday.
Getting reps in live action, even though it did unfold following Ray’s injury, allowed Jackson to get his feet wet in Montreal, where the Argos ran some no-huddle and their three-minute drill.
Getting Andre Durie back helps, providing Jackson another weapon capable of turning underneath routes into major gains.
“He doesn’t need to throw the ball 40 times,’’ said Milanovich of Jackson. “H needs to efficient and we need to be balanced on offence.”
No matter how it’s produced and regardless of how many yards Jackson throws, the Argos need to escape the Peg with a win.
The alternative may prove devastating, both in short term and long term.