October 26, 2012
Argos facing cold, hard facts
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Like many of his peers in three-down football, Chad Owens couldn’t keep his eye off the television last Saturday as Calgary and Hamilton exchanged blows and big plays amid the falling snow.
Unlike many of his CFL contemporaries, the Flyin’ Hawaiian has never played in the snow, which greeted Owens and his Argos teammates on Friday morning when they arrived.
The forecast for Saturday’s kickoff does not call for snow, but stranger things have happened at this time of the year.
“I’m not saying I want it to snow, but at the same time I was like, wow, that was the CFL at its finest, Calgary and Hamilton last week,’’ began Owens.
Whether snow does fall, whether the wind picks up in intensity, whether temperatures drop, Owens is expecting a weather game, which is fitting seeing this week looms as a bellwether for the slumping Argos.
A win and the Argos, despite their many recent missteps and mistakes, are in the playoffs, a time when all bets are off, when any team is capable of making it to the Grey Cup if enough momentum is built.
Add in the many questions surrounding the Argos and the elements surrounding Saturday’s kickoff and it’s easy to see why the stakes are so high for Toronto.
Saskatchewan’s fate is pretty much determined, no longer capable of playing host to a post-season game, unsure whether its road to the Grey Cup will take Rider Nation to the East or whether a date in Calgary is on the horizon.
For the Roughriders, Saturday’s game is the season’s final in front of their rabid fans.
The Argos have saved their worst, at least some of their most wretched play, for home, where home field has not served any advantage.
Along the way to their 7-9 record, the Argos have won in Hamilton, on Labour Day no less, in Montreal, in Calgary, went into Winnipeg with backup quarterback Jarious Jackson as their starter and nearly came back from a deficit to beat B.C.
“We know what’s at stake,’’ continued Owens. “Our approach has to be like it’s a playoff game because it truly is. We don’t want to go down the road of having to win that last game, whatever the scenarios happen to be.
“Our chance is right now. We have a chance to control things. There have been opportunities during the year where we could have controlled things, but we fell short, unfortunately.
“But we’re still here, still believe and we need to make it happen (Saturday).”
The crowd will be against them, the weather does not suit Toronto’s passing game and it’s debatable whether the Argos are both mentally and physically tough enough to handle all that will be thrown at them.
“You can’t allow outside elements to affect what we’re trying to accomplish,’’ added Owens.
“Things like the weather you can’t control. When the whistle blows, you just have to forget about it and just play football, execute to the best of your ability.”
DEFENCE HIGHLY MOTIVATED
As much as the Argos defence wants to forget last week’s regrettable play, it simply can’t, no matter the opponent or the conditions.
Until it regains its swagger and becomes more assignment sound, this huge question mark will continue to hover over the unit, which at one point during the season was among the best in the CFL.
“Anytime something like that happens, you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself whether you still care,’’ began starting middle linebacker Robert McCune. “You have to have pride in what you do and there has to be a sense of urgency where you say to yourself that it can’t happen again.”
In losing to visiting Winnipeg, the Argos run defence yielded 260 yards.
On Saturday in football-crazy Rider Nation country, the Argos are expected to get a steady diet of Kory Sheets, who eclipsed the 1,000-yard barrier in his rookie season by rushing in excess of 100 yards against the Argos in a loss that would trigger a three-game losing skid for Toronto, each produced at home.
“We have to get back to playing the type of defence we’ve been playing,’’ said McCune.
No one knows how a good practice week will translate into game day or how a team’s mood will manifest itself when the bullets start flying for real.
But in McCune’s mind, he’s liked what he’s seen from his team.
“Arriving at the airport, everyone had smiles on their face,’’ he added. “All this week guys have been tuned in, have been focused and there’s a good attitude.
“We’re a pro football team and we can’t allow what happened last week any more.”