Argos in playoffs ... so what?Making post-season expected, now coach Milanovich expects much more
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
|Argonauts head coach Scott Milanovich speaks to the media at the University of Toronto's Mississauga Campus in Mississauga, Ont., Oct. 15, 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - There’s a reason Scott Milanovich wasn’t high-fiving or doing back flips in the aftermath of Saturday’s character win in Regina, a win that assured the Argos of a home playoff date in the East semi-final.
In an eight-team league where six qualify for the post-season, only the absolute wretched become extinct, a fact of life in three-down football that is not lost on the rookie head coach.
“We always felt we’d be a playoff team,’’ said Milanovich, whose team does nonetheless sport a losing record at 8-9 as a meaningless home finale looms on Thursday. “It’s disappointing we hadn’t taken care of business sooner. But we’re in now and we’ll see what happens.
“My goal is the always the same, which is to win the Grey Cup. You’re in an eight-team league where six make the playoffs. I don’t feel we’ve accomplished a heck of a lot at this point. We need to keep going.”
How far the Argos go will depend on the play of quarterback Ricky Ray.
By as early as Monday, the Argos should do the obvious and just come out that Ray will not play this week and that Jarious Jackson will start against Hamilton and that rookie Trevor Harris will get extended playing time.
It makes too much sense and it’s the only course of action available to the Argos with absolutely nothing to gain.
All season long, the players have realized the presence Ray has and the cache he has built in helping his former team in Edmonton win two Grey Cups.
Among Ray’s most defining moments in this his first year in Double Blue was that perfectly thrown corner route to Mo Mann in Regina that would lead to a field goal in a 31-26 win.
Had Ray been able to use his legs to convert on second down, the Argos may have well gone on to score a touchdown on that series, but he continues to wear a brace on a left knee he hurt in a loss to Montreal on Sept. 21.
In his absence, the Argos looked disjointed, notwithstanding a win on the road against the Blue Bombers.
With Ray, there’s a belief and a sense of relief when no stage and no circumstance is too big.
“Every time, every team has a quarterback playing at an elite level, no matter what else is going on around them, that team has a chance to win,’’ veteran free safety Jordan Younger said. “Having that, knowing how he (Ray) puts it on the line, scrambling around when his leg is not 100%, we really appreciate that.”
Had the Argos taken care of business by cleaning up some areas that still need to be addressed, they could have conceivably wrapped up first in the East, enjoy a bye and basically be one win away from playing for a title.
But as they say, it is what it is and the Argos will still get to get at home in the post-season.
If they do take care of business, going to Montreal with a shot a championship does not intimidate the Argos because they know they’ll have a shot as long as Ray is given time in the pocket.
The throw to Mann against the Riders was something Milanovich and Ray discussed about, a route set up when Mann leveraged his defender and went in motion.
“We put the ball in his hands and that’s why you have Ricky Ray,’’ said Milanovich. “When the time comes to make a throw to Maurice Mann with a game on the line, you get it done and get the extra points.”
TIME TO TIGHTEN SHIP
They’ll talk the talk about ending the season on a winning note, of playing a rival and wanting to build momentum for the playoffs.
The fact remains that the Argos’ focus is now on the
Nov. 11 East semi, a game that will be played at Rogers Centre.
From now until then, the Argos have to somehow get Chad Owens to hold on to the football and somehow tell Brandon Isaac to tackle lower.
With the stakes so high, the slightest misstep will now prove costly.
In the end, the season-long themes of discipline and ball security may bite the Argos.
No longer is anyone talking about red-zone inefficiency, but there are areas that simply need to ironed out.
Head coach Scott Milanovich admits an Owens fumble following a missed field goal could have been the difference in Regina on Saturday.
Evan McCollough, who sealed the win with a late-game interception, recovered the fumble.
Isaac hit Darian Durant high, but no flag was called.
“He’s aware of it,’’ Milanovich said of Isaac. “He’s not a dirty player and he’s not trying to hit people. He’s trying to get to the guy, but he needs to concentrate on being lower.”