Argos dominate Redblacks for second win of the season
OTTAWA — In finally earning their second win of the CFL season — a surprisingly one-sided 46-17 decision over the Ottawa Redblacks — it was an afternoon of firsts for the Argonauts here on Saturday afternoon.
Granted, it was against the a truly awful Redblacks team, but at least this time the Argos did not blow a halftime lead as they’d done the past two weeks, beginning with their visit to Moncton against the Als and then on Labour Day in the Hammer.
Had quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson protected the ball better, the Argos could have won by 50, but give this team credit for playing hard and putting the ball in the hands of its playmakers, namely Derel Walker, who is simply unstoppable and among the very best players in the CFL at any position.
However, the Boatmen’s dominance did not come without some early rough moments, such as when Bethel-McLeod was picked off on just his second play from scrimmage and the Redblacks cashed it in for a 7-0 lead.
Toronto now goes into a bye week for the second time this season feeling good about itself, a 2-9 team that wouldn’t be clinging to its playoff life had it taken care of business in winnable previous games that turned into losses.
It took three plays before the Argos self-destructed, the visitors producing the game’s first turnover when Bethel-Thompson was picked off by Redblacks defensive lineman George Uko, who, in fairness, made a nice play.
Toronto’s starting QB, whose three previous wins were by a combined three points, was responsible for three turnovers Saturday, but he also delivered the football and he deserves full credit.
The same applies to Toronto’s offensive line, which was simply outstanding in allowing Bethel-Thompson to operate from a clean pocket for most of the game.
A rare bad snap from Jake Reinhart was mitigated when punter Ronnie Pfeffer wisely decided to use his feet on the punt formation to move the chains.
An extra point would be missed and some plays yielded down the field, but outside of a few instances of poor play the Argos were solid in all areas.
“It looked like that first pre-season game when we all came together,’’ said head coach Corey Chamblin following the win as he reflected on Toronto’s pre-season opener against Montreal when the Argos rolled at Varsity Stadium. “Each unit took its time in making plays. There were some setbacks, but we didn’t allow them to put us back.
“I think that was the key for us. We still had that positive mindset moving forward. We didn’t let the energy drain out of us and the guys stayed positive. That was the first time we handled adversity the way we should have and then bounce back and move forward.”
Chamblin was spot on in his observations of the team, which did not look like the team that played the second half in Moncton or in Hamilton, two games the Argos had a chance to win had they found a way to bounce back from times of duress.
As expected from two teams entering the game with a combined four wins, stretches of clean football were few and far between.
The Argos, however, kept their bad plays to a minimum, while the Redblacks played some wretched football that observers of the franchise compare to the expansion year when Ottawa won two games.
For the Boatmen, who realize their post-season hopes are thin, there were many encouraging signs: The offensive line, rookie rush end Robbie Smith, the receiving unit, James Wilder Jr. emerging for the first time all season and scoring three touchdowns, plus a scoop and score from Qudarius Ford following a forced fumble by Robert Woodson.
There was urgency once the Argos fell behind early by one touchdown and, at long last, a much-needed will to put away an opponent.
“For them (the players), enough is enough and that’s what I noticed (Saturday),’’ said Chamblin. “We understand who we are and who we can be. That was the biggest thing.
“They thought enough is enough. Like I told them, this game is about players and this game will always be about players.
“They stepped up (Saturday). It’s not like they haven’t done it in the past. They were ready and hopefully from this moment we move forward in a manner like this.”
It is possible for this group to sustain the level it showed Saturday, and the good news for the Argos is that the Redblacks visit Toronto twice next month.
The CFL is a league where anything and everything is possible, which includes the possibility of the Argos running the table with seven games remaining, as unlikely as that appears, and sneak into the post-season.
It is possible. But in all likelihood the Argos will need help.
They didn’t need any help in Ottawa because their talent level took centre stage in an unrelenting and thorough performance.
BEAR WOODS BACK IN ACTION
OTTAWA — The backdrop was much different the last time Bear Woods played at TD Place Stadium, his Argos a far different group than the one that took to the field in the nation’s capital on Saturday afternoon.
The one similarity was that Woods walked off the gridiron as a winner, though this time the stakes weren’t quite as important.
The veteran linebacker, known for his warm personality and strong presence inside the locker room, finally got to suit up for the Argos following a disappointing 2018 season marred by injuries.
An injury to Canadian Justin Herdman-Reed (shoulder) allowed Woods help the Boatmen snap a 14- game road losing streak with their 46-17 thrashing of the Redblacks.
Woods hadn’t played at TD Place since the 2017 Grey Cup game, in which the Argos upset the mighty Calgary Stampeders in the snow.
Woods was one of many veterans on that defence led by Corey Chamblin, who returned to Toronto this season to serve as both head coach and defensive coordinator.
Woods wasn’t even asked to report to training camp in 2019, but all along there was a feeling his veteran presence and calming voice would return.
For the past few weeks, Woods was on the practice roster. But with Micah Awe placed on the six-game injured list, it allowed the Argos to dress Woods. And when Herdman-Reed left in the opening half, Woods was able to get on to the field and do what he does best — running to the ball, lowering his shoulder and wrapping up ball-carriers.
He recorded eights tackles.
“I was well-rested, in hibernation I guess,’’ said the Bear Man, who wore the same shirt emblazoned with wrestler Macho Man Savage on the front against the Redblacks as he did against the Stamps.
“People forget how I pretty much played three games last year and had 30 tackles,’’ continued Woods. “Nothing has changed. I’ve got film to show it. I just picked off from last year.”
Toronto’s defence did a very good job against a not-so-good Ottawa offence, overcoming the injury to Herdman-Reed and a setback to Alden Darby Jr. (hip) in the back end.
A defensive score was also part of this Toronto win, just as it was two years ago in the championship.
Times have changed in Argoland to the point where only Woods, Cleyon Laing and Ford were the only players to dress for Toronto’s defence on Saturday who also suited up in the 2017 Grey Cup.
Defensive dominance would be the best way to describe how Toronto’s unit played Saturday afternoon, players adjusting to their roles when starters went down, players rotating along the line of scrimmage and pressure being mounted.
“Bear is timeless,’’ said Chamblin of his veteran middle linebacker. “When your name is Bear and you live in the woods, he’s timeless. He understands football, he understands where he is in his career. He knows there’s not five years left in it. He’s enjoying every moment and he’s playing to the fullest.
“I really appreciate the leadership qualities he brought into the locker room.”