Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Worrisome trend or October blahs?

Don Matthews didn’t look happy on the sidelines at Commonwealth Stadium on Monday; his Alouettes were taken to school by a highly motivated Edmonton Eskimo squad. With the Eskies fighting for their playoff lives, they returned to the form that won them a Grey Cup one year ago.

Having lost their last three games and dangling dangerously close to elimination from the playoff pool this year, the Eskimos stepped into the fire and delivered a beauty of a game for the close to 38,000 fans on hand for the Thanksgiving Day Grey Cup re-match. Jason Maas threw for 454 yards on the day, completing 20 of 34 attempts four of which went for touchdowns in the 39-19 pasting of the Als. Mike Pringle’s running game returned to form as well as he rumbled for only 67 yards but scored two majors in the process, including one that tied George Reed for the all time touchdown list with 137.

It was a complete game for the Esks, while they dominated on offence picking apart the previously solid Montreal defence, the Eskie defence held its own as well, keeping Anthony Calvillo in check for most of the game, holding back the Alouette attack as Calvillo brought the Als close as the first half came to a close. But in the second half it was all Eskimo as they turned on the jets taking advantage of untimely penalties in the Montreal secondary to add to the total.

The win for Eskimo was huge, basically putting them in the driver’s seat in securing a playoff spot, all but dashing the hopes of the Blue Bombers to play in November. The win should help to keep the Esks motivated as they chase the Saskatchewan Roughriders for second and help to keep an eye on a long shot chance to catch the Lions. It does however take some of the pressure off; the Esks had stumbled through the late stages of September and through October, giving dark thoughts of missing the playoffs for the first time in 33 years. With the huge win over the Als, sunshine bathes the land of the Eskimo those dark clouds moving on perhaps to hover over Montreal.

Don Matthews cannot like what he has seen the last two weeks as the Alouettes travelled across the prairies. Two successive games have seen the Alouette offence unable to answer the call; the special teams stumble at key moments and one of the toughest defences in the league allow the opposition to score at will. Having lost the carrot of a perfect season, it seems the Al players have decided to take October off and just slide through the rest of the season. Having yet to secure first place in the East, they have lost their focus and look like a middle of the pack team all of a sudden. While it seems unlikely that the Als won't clinch first in the East, they now run the risk of doing so tentatively and not with much authority.

While fans of the Als no doubt believe this is only a temporary lull in the march on Ottawa for late November, bad habits can quickly turn into major problems. Matthews will have to take his players back to school this week in order to regain the dominating spirit that they exhibited at the start of the season. A big test comes this Sunday when BC comes to town. The Lions who were knocked down a peg by the Argos will be looking to get back into playoff form as well, if Montreal isn’t back on their game there’s a good chance they’ll find themselves 0-3 so far for October, not a good omen heading into the Eastern playoffs.

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