For the Argos, the push for the post-season officially begins on Monday, a day that will set the tone for the balance of the regular season and where the team ultimately ends up in the playoff pecking order.
In football, given the very nature of the sport and the schedule, every game and every opponent, regardless of record, presents its own unique set of challenges and circumstances.
In early September, a home-and-home series involving the Ticats provided the Argos with an opportunity to establish separation from their historic rivals, a feat that was accomplished in back-to-back wins.
Then came a statement game in Montreal, which happened to be the last snap Ricky Ray would take for a while, and a moment to judge themselves against the East’s measuring stick.
The Argos would fail, but now comes an even more impactful kickoff against a Roughriders team that finds itself in the same football boat as the Boatmen — 7-6 teams on the cusp that simply need to break through by any means.
After going 1-2 on a three-game road trip, the Argos now play three in a row at home and four of the five season-ending games at the Rogers Centre.
“It’s a crucial game going down the stretch,’’ acknowledged veteran Jeff Johnson, who has seen just about all that there is to see in three-down football, experiencing both winning runs and losing stretches. “Successful teams get on a rhythm. We’re at home for four of the final five games and we’ve got to start it out right.
“We’re competing for first and there’s the potential for a home playoff game. And we’re playing a team that just beat the best in the West (B.C.). Not many teams have done what they (Roughriders) just did and we have to start fast, fire on all cylinders and dominate.”
Realistically, unless Toronto’s defence scores yet again and forces multiple turnovers, it’s unlikely the Argos will dominate an opponent that is playing well on the defensive side of the ball.
Toronto’s starting backfield will feature a backup quarterback in Jarious Jackson and a backup tailback in Gerald Riggs Jr., two players who understand their roles and realize the fleeting nature of their first-string status.
In the football vernacular, “being up’’ is a term that describes an individual’s ability to play in a game.
According to head coach Scott Milanovich, both Ray (knee) and Chad Kackert, who injured his ribs in last week’s win over Winnipeg, are both possibilities for next week’s visit by Montreal.
If neither is able to play against the Als, Monday’s moment for both Jackson and Riggs looms large because a lot will be expected.
Jackson has the mobility to provide a change of pace for Saskatchewan’s defence, while Riggs is a bigger back than Kackert, a dimension that will come in handy in blitz pickups.
The Argos have been looking to build some momentum and there’s no better opportunity to seize than the present when so much future gain can be produced.
At 7-6, the Argos have a legitimate shot to inch closer to a home playoff date with a win over Saskatchewan.
Regardless of what unfolds in Montreal on Monday when Winnipeg, minus its heart and soul in quarterback Buck Pierce, pays a visit, a win by the Argos sets the stage for yet another defining moment.
Finishing first in the East, which normally is a one-way ticket to a berth in the Grey Cup, is well within the Argos’ grasp.
But they must first beat Saskatchewan.
THIS TIME, IT'S FOR REAL
For three years as teammates, Kevin Huntley and Dominic Picard would line up nose-to-nose in practice.
On Monday, both will go toe-to-toe for the first time in a regular-season CFL contest.
In one of those classic games within a game, how Huntley and the Argos’ down interior linemen handle Picard and Saskatchewan’s offensive line will a long way in determining the winner.
“He’s a physical guy and he gives it everything he has,’’ said Huntley. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Picard is as tough as they come, always playing on the edge and occasionally after the whistle when provoked. And he should earn consideration as the league’s top offensive lineman, exposure that is long overdue.
When free agency beckoned in 2009 and the Argos needed some of football’s nastiness on the O-line, they signed both Picard and Rob Murphy.
Huntley recalls with fondness the practices when he and Picard went at it.
“You never let up,’’ said Huntley. “If you do, you can get hurt. You may end up hurting somebody else. It gets you ready for the game. You’ve got to do it in a game, so why not do it in practice?”
Huntley knows the Argos defence will have its hands full against Picard and the rest of Saskatchewan’s offensive linemen.
“That unit is a physical bunch,’’ said Huntley. “Our job is to outphysical them.”