November 10, 2012
It all comes down to Ray
By FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency
There are many reasons to favour the Argonauts in Sunday's Eastern semifinal against the Edmonton Eskimos.
The Argos are a team that's peaking at the precise time on the football calendar against a team that backed its way into the post-season.
In a one-game format, the best team does not always win, but the best player, assuming he lives up to the billing, ultimately decides the winner and Ricky Ray clearly is the guy and the one and only reason why the Argos will prevail.
As his nature, Ray provided no bulletin-board material in a week where virtually every question somehow was linked to his days in Edmonton, a team that will pay the price for not having an established quarterback in a quarterback league.
Kerry Joseph is more than capable, but so much has to go right for the Eskimos and so much must go awry on an Argos defence that genuinely feels slighted at how myopic voters approached the all-star process.
There's too much on the line for any player to publicly express his disappointment, no time to engage in foolishness when a win on Sunday puts the Argos one win away from playing for the Grey Cup, the milestone 100th Grey Cup, to be played in Toronto.
But look at the body language, whether it's from Robert McCune, Toronto's tough-as-nails middle linebacker, playmaking strong side linebacker Brandon Isaac, and you can't help but sense the frustration of being snubbed.
It's almost laughable to believe a team such as the Argos would have only three all-stars, especially on defence where stats do not tell the entire story.
The story to be penned on Sunday begins and ends with Ray, who never has looked in such complete control of the offence like he has in the two games since he returned from a knee injury.
On the eve of kickoff, Ray admitted the expected nervousness and anxiousness will surface the closer he gets to game time.
Given his demeanor and post-season history, nothing is going to rattle Ray and only self-induced mistakes will prevent the Argos from next Sunday's date in Montreal.
This is not to belittle the Eskimos, a proud franchise that had to deal with the abrupt and messy divorce with GM Eric Tillman on the day following last Friday's season-ending loss to Calgary.
Joseph has one fewer Grey Cup title than Ray, but he's not the kind of player who makes others around him better.
In fact, a few Argos were surprised to learn Edmonton had decided on Joseph over Matt Nichols, whose strong arm and fearless, almost reckless nature, to throw into coverage would suited the Esks better, especially against a high risk, high reward defence such as the Argos.
The Argos may yet see Nichols, but if someone not named Ray lines up in a shotgun formation, then it's curtains for the Argos, their dreams of hoisting the Grey Cup on their home turf officially terminated.
More than anything, Ray and rookie head coach Scott Milanovich have finally found that level only time can help form, a comfort that's absolutely required in a passing offence that puts so much onus on the quarterback.
It should come as no surprise that Milanovich had his contract extended, the timing and the rumours surrounding GM Jim Barker notwithstanding.
The surprise is that Ray has yet to be extended, the perfect asset in an offence that has found its stride at the perfect time.
Once the off-season officially kicks in, there's no reason why the Argos cannot sit down with Ray and his representation and discuss a deal that ensures he remains in Toronto for the balance of his career.
The Argos will only go as far as Ray takes them and every player on either side of the ball knows it and would acknowledge it.
There's no way Chad Owens would be considered as MOP had Ray stayed in Edmonton.
The Argos don't need Owens to beat Edmonton on Sunday, but they can't win if Ray was on the sideline.
In three full games and three quarters without Ray pulling the trigger, Owens was a complete non-factor on offence.
As soon as Ray was medically cleared to play, Owens produced a 100-yard game.
But Owens isn't the only player who has benefitted from Ray's presence.
Name any player who lines up on offence and the Ray factor should be obvious.
Revenge does not motivate Ray, but the two losses to Edmonton at least provides enough evidence on ways to attack a defence that simply must force turnovers for the visitors to have any chance.
It isn't often where one guy in a playoff game has the potential to have that great a presence.
But exceptions come along every once in a while and Sunday looms as that day.
Ray day, if you will.