There was something a little different about the Argos season-opening loss to the Edmonton Eskimos this weekend.
It wasn’t any less heart-breaking than usual, nor did it mean less in the standings. And as any fan will tell you, a loss is a loss.
It may hurt a little more, too, knowing that a win would’ve put the Argos all alone atop the East Division standings with a glowing 1-0 record to open the season.
There’s no sugar-coating it – the team’s first game of 2012, after an off-season of promise and excitement, was gut-wrenching.
» By the Numbers: Ricky Ray (Week 1)
Passing: 29-39, 298 YDS, 74.4%, 1 TD, 0 INT, 104.4 RTG
Rushing: 3 ATT, 24 YDS, 12 LG
But it was also comforting.
It’s not easy to convince any sports fan, let alone one from Toronto, to find comfort in losing. But with Saturday’s 19-15 loss at Commonwealth Stadium, Argos fans should try to do just that.
The reality is this: one dropped pass in the end zone, two missed chip shots, and a holding penalty stood in the way of an Argos win. All of those are correctable issues, including the biggest one of all – team discipline.
“It came down to a couple plays in the red zone where we weren’t able to make one play, and another one got called back,” first-year Head Coach Scott Milanovich told reporters after Saturday’s game. “In a close game like this when you’re on the road, you’ve got to make those plays, and we weren’t able to do that today.”
Considering that the Argos were flagged 18 times for a total of 118 yards, it seems remarkable that they out-gained the Eskimos on offence by a net of 57 yards. Actually, it’s remarkable they even made a game out of it.
That’s just what 32-year-old Ricky Ray brings to the table, and it’s something the Argos have been missing since Damon Allen closed the book on his illustrious CFL career in 2007.
The way he stands so poised in the pocket; his sense of when he needs to get rid of the ball; his ability to float passes over defenders and into the hands of his receivers with just the perfect amount of touch – it’s all so amazing to watch. It just feels magical.
Despite a steep learning curve with an entirely different team, coach, city, and offence, Ray put all of those skills on display for Argos fans and the rest of the CFL on Saturday.
“He came out and played as I expected him to,” said Milanovich. “It’s a team game. That’s what we talked about this morning in our meeting and that’s what we’re going to continue to talk about during the season. Ricky did as well as he could do.”
If one thing’s certain, it’s that not many fans at Commonwealth Stadium would’ve doubted him when the Argos took possession with around a minute left in the game trailing by four points. Esks fans know from experience that more often than not, Ray will burn you for even giving him the chance.
“I think everybody believed we could win it right up until the very end,” said Milanovich. He had a couple of big plays, I think we had to scramble on that first down when we had it down around the 35 yard line and we were trying to take a shot to the end zone. We hit a couple of check-downs and they did a good job of rallying to the ball, and they played good defence.”
So in his Argos debut, it just wasn’t in the cards.
Win or lose though, there’s one thing we can take from Saturday’s game: With Ray under centre, you know you have a chance to win every game, no matter what else does or doesn’t go your way. And that’s something Argos fans need to enjoy every second of, because it’s been a rarity in Toronto.
The Argos also have a number of other dangerous weapons at their disposal, including the elusive Chad Owens, who turned a number of heads in Saturday’s game after becoming just the third player in league history to eclipse 100 yards receiving, 100 yards on kick returns, and 100 yards on punt returns.
He’s already earned a reputation as one of the league’s most dangerous return men, but he’s also looking to make a splash on offence as a slotback.
Cory Boyd should help give the Argos one of the top rushing attacks in the league, as he enters his third season with the Boatmen. In his first two years, he rushed for a total of 2,500 yards despite missing games due to injury in each year.
Andre Durie gives the Argos another unique weapon, as a former running back who now lines up as a slotback. He’s adapted to being a pass-receiver and is especially dangerous after the catch.
Meanwhile, as Ray shows signs of leading a coherent offensive attack for the Double Blue, the defence also came away from Saturday’s game with a number of positives.
Giving up just 19 points and 296 yards on offence was rather impressive, especially knowing the Eskimos had an average starting field position of midfield on their opening four drives of the game.
With such a short field every time, the defence showed considerable resiliency, giving up just one touchdown and forcing four field goal attempts. Two of those field goals came from outside the 40.
“Our defence I felt played well enough for us to win,” said Milanovich. “We had some opportunities to make plays and whether it was a penalty here or just not an execution play on the offence’s part, we weren’t able to get enough points to win.”
Ray said he takes responsibility for a number of those mistakes, but understands most of them will be eliminated as the offence grows and everyone becomes more comfortable. He also credits his former team for playing a great game.
“We did some things that we need to clean up,” Ray said following the game. “Obviously penalties, and doing a better job in the red zone – coming away with touchdowns. Hats off to them, they’re a good football team. They played us really well.”
In the meantime, as Ray tries to become more comfortable in the offence, Argos fans can already take comfort in knowing they’ll be cheering for one of the top passers the game’s ever seen. And what a pleasure that will be.
Esks fans showed on Saturday that Ray will always have a special place in their hearts, and they’ll never forget what he’s accomplished in nine seasons of memories since he joined the Eskimos in 2002 (he spent one year with the NFL’s New York Jets).
Starting next Saturday with their home opener against the Calgary Stampeders, Argos fans will get a chance to show the same kind of endearment. He’s all yours now, Argos fans – don’t take him for granted.
Wed Jun 12 at 8:00 pm EDT
Investors Group Field
|vs Montreal||Thu Jun 20||7:00 pm EDT|
|vs Hamilton||Fri Jun 28||7:00 pm EDT|
|@ BC||Thu Jul 4||10:00 pm EDT|
|vs Saskatchewan||Thu Jul 11||7:30 pm EDT|
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