The Toronto Argonauts have struggled in 2016, and even those struggles have their own struggles. The Argos this past week cut ties with four players. Head coach Scott Milanovich has hinted at major changes throughout the season. The release of four international receivers was a move to regain control of a locker room and re-establish discipline within the Boatmen’s ranks. The Argos playoff hopes continue, thought it will be a tough fight.
The Calgary Stampeders, who’ve been on a tear this season, came into Toronto on an 11-game winning streak. That streak increased to 12 after another dominating performance that saw the Stamps up 35-6 at halftime against the Boatmen on a chilly Thanksgiving Monday, eventually winning 48-20.
Despite Blowout Loss, Argos Playoff Fight Continues
Jerome Messam Feast on Argos D like it’s Thanksgiving Turkey
The Argos were consistently beaten all over the field by the Stamps. Jerome Messam, who had a field day carrying the rock, ran around and through anybody wearing a blue jersey Monday. By the end of the third quarter, Messam had cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season, with a 31-yard rush bringing him to 1,002 total rushing yards. By the end of the blowout win against Toronto, the 31-year-old had run for a total of 133-yards and scored a touchdown against the double blue.
Drew Willy got to know the Calgary defensive front very well in his third game against them (his first as an Argo) in 2016. One player in particular, Ja’Gared Davis, was locked onto Willy all game. Davis hadn’t recorded a sack in a CFL game since Week Seven against Saskatchewan. Against the Argos he recorded a total of three, as the Calgary defence put pressure on Willy, play after play.
Flashes are there
The Argos have struggled to put together a full game in 2016, like many of their Eastern Division counterparts. Monday against the Stamps was more of the same. Despite the blowout loss, though, the team is still in competition for a spot in the playoffs, and even the division title.
The positive takeaways for Toronto include Willy’s performance against an aggressive Calgary squad. Despite being under pressure all game Willy did not throw an interception or turn the ball over, passing for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to buy time in the pocket with his feet and find receivers when they got open.
Willy’s high 83.9% completion percentage shows promise for the offence, according to Milanovich. “He’s going to have to continue to improve: he’s played two games against two tough defences. He’s going to have the unfortunate task of having played Calgary four times this year and they’re a good team.”
Milanovich further reiterated a key point of the loss was missed opportunities in crucial situations. “The thing that kills us is when in short yardage plays you don’t convert and turn the ball over,” said Milanovich. “You’re off the field and you don’t get those chances to keep playing and the defence is back on the field.”
Justin Hickman had another game where he made clutch plays. First Hickman tracked down Bo Levi Mitchell for what ended up being a sack and forced fumble, and then later he blocked a punt. The fumble led to a scramble for the ball and resulted in a 41-yard fumble return by the Argos after Shawn Lemon recovered the ball, ran for some of those yards, and then pitched the ball to safety Jermaine Gabriel, who took it the rest of the way.
Gabriel commented on the havoc on the play from the ensuing scramble to get to the end zone. “I was trying to get out in front of [Lemon] to block, but then he cut in front of me and I saw he was running out of gas, so for about 20 yards I was yelling at him pitch it, pitch it, pitch it! When I got the ball I was just trying to get points on the board and help the team. The refs said I went out of bounds but I didn’t think I did,” the Canadian defensive back said.
That play ultimately led to an Argos score when Kenny Shaw scored a touchdown on the following series.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) October 10, 2016
Hickman in Kelly Jeffrey’s special team’s system has gotten free for blocks twice now this season. The blocked punt also led to a touchdown with Diontae Spencer cashing in on a pass from Willy.
Praising the character of veterans like Greenwood and Hickman on the defence, the Argos head coach was positive about the fact that even in this hardship, players are still playing hard.
“I was watching some of the veteran guys, and I told the team at halftime in that situation you have two choices, you can either quit or you can fight. Guys like Hickman breaking through on the punt to block it. There were four or five guys I saw in particular giving everything they’ve got. Cory Greenwood, made a couple plays on the last drive when we were down by 25, you don’t make those plays unless you’ve got some very strong character,” said the head coach.
It’s clear why Milonavich praises players like Greenwood. After the game the linebacker gave some insight into his own mindset and what motivates him as a player.
“We’re just gonna keep playing. If they’re up 25 or 30 points and you know they’re gonna try and run the ball. You’re on film, you’re a professional football player, are you going to go out there mope around and get your a– kicked or are you going to go out there and smack someone. That’s the mentality you’ve got to have. I’m trying to win a ring, I’ve never won a ring or anything in my life and I’m 31 years old, all I want to do is win and I’m going to show up every day to work preparing to win,” said Greenwood.
The increasing number of losses has the team less than thrilled, a fact coach Milanovich reiterated following the game. “Football isn’t much fun when you don’t win. It tears your heart out every time when don’t win. It’s terrible, you wake up feeling sick, every time. The thing that keeps you coming back is that great feeling you get after a win and the camaraderie and the relationships you have in the locker room, unfortunately we haven’t had enough of that this year.”
Still in the Hunt
Despite another loss and a 5-10 record, the Argos remain in the hunt for first place in the East Division. Hamilton and Ottawa play each other twice before the end of the season, setting up a number of possible scenarios down the stretch.
The simplest way to get into the playoffs and have a hope of playing in the Grey Cup as hosts is to win out the remainder of the season. Next up for Toronto is the Roughriders on Saturday. Saskatchewan, despite their poor record, are capable of playing spoiler, as seen in their thrilling 32-30 win in overtime against Ottawa this past week.
After the blowout loss to Calgary, Toronto is frustrated, but not broken. And the Eastern Division playoff picture is far from settled.