For the first time in a few weeks, there is some minor separation in the CFL’s West Division. Out East, meanwhile, Week 12 results gave us even more separation between the Argos and the rest of the pack.
Along the way, we got some thrilling finishes and a big win for a quarterback who needed one.
I don’t think anyone should be surprised to see the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts find ways to win football games. Both teams were in tough spots late in the fourth quarter, and both teams found ways to win in thrilling fashion.
|Related: Week 12 Action|
Edmonton vs. Winnipeg
Saskatchewan vs. Toronto
Calgary vs. Hamilton
BC vs. Montreal
It’s also no coincidence that both teams sit atop their respective divisions, either.
It’s also no fluke that both of these teams have had success despite numerous injuries to key personnel. That’s what makes the last few weeks so impressive for the Stamps and Argos.
They’re winning games because they’re good teams, and they’re also setting themselves up for more potential success when some important bodies return to the lineup.
Calgary opened the week with a 26-22 win over Hamilton at McMahon Stadium, and while the Tiger-Cats rightfully feel like they let one slip away, credit has to go to the Stamps at the same time.
Calgary engineered an outstanding final drive to take the lead once and for all, and they did it using two players with enhanced roles thanks to injury.
Bo Levi Mitchell started his second consecutive game at quarterback, and while he had his fair share of troubles during the game, he was lights out when things were at their most crucial.
The Stamps are playing without their first and second string quarterbacks, as once again neither Drew Tate nor Kevin Glenn were fit to start. So, it was Mitchell once again, and it was Mitchell who went six-of-eight when he was given the ball, down by three with 3:23 to go.
Mitchell got the job done, and a pair of guys who have typified the season for Calgary completed the winning score. Mitchell, who is now 3-0 as a starter, has been the poster boy for how to get the job done even when situations aren’t ideal.
But quarterback isn’t the only spot where the Stamps have had their issues. Let’s not forget Calgary is without Nik Lewis long term, which is why I thought the guy catching the winning touchdown on Friday was quite fitting.
Marquay McDaniel has seen his role elevated since the injury to Lewis, and it was his 15-yard reception that sealed the game for the Stamps. Both he and Mitchell have been forced into roles they weren’t expected to play at the beginning of the season, but that hasn’t been a problem all year for Calgary. Now they’re the number one team in the CFL despite their injury issues all season long.
Toronto was just as impressive about 24 hours later, but they had to get the job done in the most hostile of territories.
Playing at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, The Argos scored 19 fourth quarter points to shock the Riders 31-29 and did so without their two most offensive pieces once again.
Minus quarterback Ricky Ray and receiver Chad Owens, Toronto found a way for a second straight week. While Zach Collaros isn’t putting up the same numbers he did in his debut a few weeks ago, he’s saving his best football for the fourth quarter and is showing nerves of steel in the process.
Collaros threw just two incomplete passes in the fourth quarter, making good on a two-point conversion along the way. Much like Calgary, however, it wasn’t just the understudy quarterback who impressed in key situations.
The Argos finally got some good injury news when Chad Kackert returned to action, only to be knocked out less than two quarters into his return. Not surprisingly, Toronto got a strong performance from the next man up, who just happened to be Jerious Norwood in his second CFL game.
Norwood finished with 73 yards on 12 carries, averaging more than six yards a touch and never busting anything longer than 13. He battered the Riders defence, and helped the Argos stare down the face of adversity once again to open their lead in the East Division to two games.
Both Calgary and Toronto will get healthier closer to the start of the playoffs. Sure, sometimes an injured team will get a little too comfortable once an important player or two returns to the lineup, but I don’t see that happening in either scenario here.
Both teams have learned how to win in adverse situations, and I think both teams will become that much more scary when they (hopefully) return to full health.
Learning as he goes
While we’re talking about the Stampeders, I wanted to make sure I expanded on Mitchell just a tad. He was the toast of the CFL town when he threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns in his first pro start back in Week 5. His performance against Winnipeg was resounding; as he threw just four incomplete passes all game long. Things have been a little different in his last two starts, however.
|3 and Bo|
» Week 5 vs. WPG: 29/33, 376 Yards, 3 TD
» Week 11 vs. EDM: 19/26, 175 Yards, 1 TD
» Week 12 vs. HAM: 20/30, 257 Yards, 2 TD
Mitchell has been called upon to start in both Week 11 and 12, and while he has won both games, he hasn’t done so with anywhere near as much flash and polish. Mitchell has been pushed hard by the Edmonton and Hamilton defences, and he’s made some costly mistakes as a result.
He’s been forced to muck and grind his way to a win, and I think it’s the perfect learning tool for a 23-year-old quarterback.
Having things go wrong is the name of the game at this position, and only the good ones find ways to rise above. I think it’s fair to say Mitchell has risen above the last two weeks.
His interceptions are way up (three in two games) while his yardage is way down (an average of 216 yards per game), but that’s okay.
When the game has been on the line, Mitchell has gotten the job done, as we illustrated with his final drive on Friday night.
Going 3-0 as a starting quarterback in this league is good. Doing so in less than ideal situations as a third stringer is even better.
But getting the job done when things aren’t coming easy is maybe the best news of all if you’re a Stamps fan.
The Edmonton Eskimos have had more than their fair share of problems in 2013, so it was nice to see them finally win their second game on Saturday afternoon. It was even nicer to see Mike Reilly pick up the win, because he has absolutely earned it the last few weeks.
Reilly has been one of the lone consistent bright spots for Edmonton this year, as he’s grown into the starting role rapidly. Acquired from BC during the off-season, Reilly had his growing pains early on in his first season at number one.
The last number of weeks, though, has gone a long way in boosting confidence that he might be able to be the guy long term.
On Saturday afternoon, Reilly threw three touchdowns in a fairly by the numbers 25-7 Eskimos win at home to Winnipeg. So why is it so nice to see Reilly have some success in the win column? Because he’s got the bruises to show how much he’s earned it.
I still cringe to think of some of the hits I saw live and in person on Labour Day Monday as the Eskimos lost to the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium. Not only was Reilly sacked seven times, he was also absolutely rocked on numerous more occasions.
Yet, there he was, still stepping up and still playing confident in the fourth quarter as Edmonton almost completed an improbable comeback.
This has been a somewhat constant storyline all year long. Different teams, not just the Stamps on Labour Day, have battered Reilly and yet he always finds ways to finish games. He’s got guts, I’ll tell you that much, and it’s tough not to admire his fighting spirit. That’s why watching him get rewarded for all that toil was really cool to see.
Make no mistake, though: The physical toll this season has put on Reilly’s body can’t be something we see continue into subsequent years. I get the same feeling now as I did early in Buck Pierce’s career.
I was a HUGE Pierce fan back in his first stint with BC, and longtime readers of this column will know I was still pumping his tires into his first few seasons with Winnipeg.
But even early on, regardless of how gutsy he was, you knew his style of game would catch up to him if it wasn’t refined. Unfortunately, many of us had crystal balls when it comes to Pierce.
There are some things out of Reilly’s control, of course. His offensive line has already been publicly challenged this year, and they’ve had major issues protecting their quarterback at times.
What is in Reilly’s control is to think about his well being a little more. Mixing in a hook slide or a deliberate incomplete pass may not help your team right at that very instant, but it will in the long run.
A healthy Reilly is a good thing for Edmonton, because he’s really done some good things in 2013. A better supporting cast in 2014 might really show us how good the Eskimos can be with him at the helm.
But he’s not going to be able to steer the ship as effectively if he’s constantly playing hurt, or worse, not playing at all. Getting the ball away faster and protecting himself when he has the chance are two keys if Reilly truly wants to establish himself as a CFL number one.
Pat Steinberg is the co-host of the drive home program on Sportsnet Radio FAN 960 in Calgary. He also reports on the CFL and the Stampeders and hosts pre and post-game programs for the team. He looks forward to traveling to the Grey Cup every year. Follow Pat on Twitter @Fan960Steinberg.