TORONTO — The Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers meet for the second and final time this season on Tuesday night, as they kick off Week 8 action at the Rogers Centre.
For both teams it marks part of a challenging stretch where each will experience two games in six days, but don’t expect either the Bombers or the Argos to use that as an excuse as they battle for a much-needed win.
Given the early-season adversity the Argos have dealt with when it comes to the injuries to a number of defensive players and receivers, it’s easy to see why something such as a short week really won’t faze anyone wearing the Double Blue.
A very quick bye week removed from an impressive 31-5 road win over the Montreal Alouettes and the Argos are ready to get back to work.
“Any rest is better than no rest,” veteran offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl told CFL.ca. “I think a lot of the guys feel a little better, obviously being in the middle of the football season everybody’s a little sore and that doesn’t go away after four or five days.”
“But it was nice to reconnect with family and friends and get your mind out of football for a little bit,” he continued. “But now we’re back and it’s back to business.”
Re-focused and refreshed, they’re back and ready to tackle a pivotal four-game stretch, starting with two big home games with very little rest in between and culminating with a visit to Hamilton for the Labour Day Classic on Sept. 1, until finally they can rest with their first of two September weeks off.
Three of their next four games are against the dominant Western Division, but those games still have the same impact in the standings given how the East is laid out through seven weeks. This stretch is a grind, and the success of the season could hang in the balance.
“Going into this stretch of games it’s one after another, so you have to get your body right and mentally you’re gonna be in it every day because you finish one game and you’re already moving onto the next game,” said quarterback Ricky Ray.
“We’ve been given a great opportunity with our slow start as well to be in control of this division, and we took a big step last week winning a big game in Montreal and now it’s time for us to keep building it and put things together and try and grab a lead if we can in this division.”
If the Argos have a successful season and wind up going far in the playoffs, perhaps their Week 6 win over Montreal will be viewed as a turning point. In the wake of three straight losses and frustrations boiling over as Ray and the offence struggled to deal with a dinged up receiving corps, the Boatmen came up with a defiant statement against a pretty stingy defence.
Running back Steve Slaton scored his first CFL touchdowns on a pair of catches from Ray in the end zone, and the offence overcame another significant and possibly season-ending injury to rookie slotback Anthony Coombs to tackle the Alouettes in dominating fashion.
With two more games coming up quickly, the best thing for the Argos would be to take the momentum from that game and carry it into the next two.
“We need to build on a good win and start to build some momentum, Head Coach Scott Milanovich said. “I really like the way we played last week and we need to show that we can do it two weeks in a row, and we’ll worry about the game after that then.”
A win on Tuesday won’t come easy, especially in light of what the Bombers did to the Argos the last time these teams met back on opening night in Winnipeg. Mike O’Shea and Drew Willy enjoyed their debuts to the tune of a 45-21 win, while the first-time starting quarterback outgunned Ray on his way to 308 passing yards and four touchdowns.
The Bombers have since shown they’re the real deal, putting themselves in a tie for top spot in the West Division with five wins – something Milanovich said he doesn’t believe is a fluke.
“They’re a good team, they’re playing well,” Milanovich told the team’s official website. “Obviously at the end of games Drew’s had the ability to make plays and win the game on the last drive, so that helps gain a lot of confidence.”
“They’re a very solid football team, I don’t know that they have a weakness right now.”
The brightest glowing assessment from Milanovich was for the Bombers’ young quarterback, who the third-year head coach said his defence will have to be wary of while he’s in the pocket.
“The thing that’s most surprising to me about Drew is just how mobile he is,” he said. “I don’t consider him a guy that’s gonna run for 80, but his mobility in the pocket I think is outstanding.”
“I don’t know that he gets enough credit for his mobility – he’s certainly a drop-back passer that’s accurate, but his toughness and his mobility are moving him up into that elite level.”
While the Argos are getting ready for their quick two-game stretch, the Bombers are about to finish theirs off – hopefully better than how it started, after the team fell 23-17 last Thursday against the Riders.
The loss marked the team’s second straight at home following back-to-back road wins over BC and Hamilton, as Willy was picked off three times including twice in the later stages of the fourth quarter – one of them for a touchdown the other way.
For Willy, the short week means quickly getting over what went wrong against the Roughriders, but also keeping tucked away in his mind the mistakes that he made late in the game in order to avoid repeating them.
|The last time they met|
Aaron Kelly had a career night and Drew Willy was stellar in his Bomber debut as Winnipeg handled the Toronto Argonauts 45-21 in the CFL season opener at Investors Group Field last month.
“You just learn from your mistakes,” said Willy. “The next time I’m in that situation I just have to be better with my read and go from there.”
“But you learn from your mistakes, move on and you have to keep being decisive out there and have that confidence in yourself because we did some good things obviously,” he continued. “We threw for 300 yards but you just can’t make a costly mistake like that.”
Rookie Head Coach Mike O’Shea meanwhile was pressed by the media about his return to Toronto, and whether he’d be fired up to return to the stadium in which he spent so many years both as a player and coach.
Instead, he replied, he’s more focused on getting his team back on the field to respond to its recent loss.
“I’m fired up to have our guys get back on the field in a game situation as quickly as possible, so we can see what we did learn,” O’Shea said. “That’s what I’m fired up about.”
“When I watch the film of this last game, I’m fired up with looking at our potential. I see a lot of good things.”
So far the Bombers have handled losing quite well, bouncing back from their first loss at home against Edmonton with a 23-6 road win over the BC Lions in which they held the Lions to just a pair of Paul McCallum field goals. O’Shea said that he’s been impressed with his team’s ability to self-diagnose with the film following games, but that they’ll be in for a big test on Tuesday night.
“I believe for us it’s going to be another game,” O’Shea said. “Playing Ricky Ray, it’s going to present its own challenges because I consider him to be the best passing quarterback in the league and he seems to pull the ball down and run lately also so we have that to look out for.”
“And knowing their coaches I know how well-prepared they’re going to be, they’re going to be extremely prepared.”
- The Argos are two wins behind last year’s mark through six games, when they were 4-2. One of the keys has been getting an early lead, as they are 2-0 when leading at the half and 0-4 when trailing.
- Ricky Ray has completed 60 per cent of his passes or better 142 times in 178 starts. He’s gone under that mark twice in the last three games, after a run of 60 per cent or better in 28 of 29 games.
- The Argos scored their two offensive touchdowns on either side of half-time against Montreal, but in the final 25:00 were forced to punt on seven straight possessions.
- Toronto has scored just three touchdowns on its last 64 possessions, dating back to its third game of the season.
- On defence though the Argos are improving significantly, not allowing an opponent touchdown in two of the last three games. In the last two games, meanwhile, the defence has forced 23 two-and-outs.
- The Argos were called for just four penalties in their game againt Montreal, a season-low for any team in the CFL this year. After drawing 30 defensive penalties in the first five games they had just one at Montreal.
- The Bombers are 3-0 on the road this season, and haven’t started 4-0 on the road since 1982. They’ve started 3-0 away from home just three times in the last 52 years.
- Winnipeg has the most second-half points in the CFL this season with 90, including 83 second-half points in five wins this season.
- The Bombers are struggling to run the football right now, as Nic Grigsby has 82 rushing yards on his last 38 carries for an average of 2.2 yards per carry.
- Winnipeg has gone against the trend this year, three times winning the game while losing the turnover battle. Only five of 28 games this season have been won by the team with more giveaways, including Winnipeg’s three.
Kickoff is at 7:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live with CFL.ca Gamecast.
– With files from Argonauts.ca/BlueBombers.com