Friday night's clash with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats just happened to be the day after Edmonton Eskimos' quarterback Kerry Joseph's 39th birthday, and he told media beforehand that all he wanted was a win. Well, he got it, as improbable as it may have seemed from some perspectives. The Eskimos had lost five straight games heading into this one and were facing a seemingly-resurgent Tiger-Cats team that downed Montreal last week, and Joseph hadn't recorded a win as a starter since 2009, but he and his Edmonton teammates came through Friday and beat Hamilton 35-20. That's a huge win for the Eskimos, as it puts them in position for a crossover playoff berth if they can match the Tiger-Cats win-for-win down the stretch, so Joseph's choice of birthday present would seem to be a good one.
Joseph himself was critically involved in securing the win. Despite less-than-stellar numbers on the whole this year, he turned in an incredible showing Friday, completing 24 of 39 passes (61.5 per cent) for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He did throw two interceptions, one on the second play of the game, but that pass took a bad bounce off Eskimos' receiver Fred Stamps (who had an unbelievable nine catches for 204 yards and a touchdown) and went right to the Ticats' Armando Murillo. On the whole, it was a very good night for Joseph, who also was effective with his legs, throwing from outside the pocket and rushing four times for 35 yards as well. Over the last few seasons, there's been a lot of questioning of why the Eskimos picked a veteran quarterback who hasn't excelled in years for their backup rather than focusing on developing younger talent at the position. If Joseph can continue to play the way he did Friday, those questions will go away quickly.
Of course, this was also about the struggles of the Tiger-Cats and quarterback Henry Burris, but what was perhaps most remarkable was the overall success of the Eskimos' offence. Heading into the week, Edmonton was last in net offence (315.2 yards per game) , second-last in rushing yards (86.2 per game) and yards per rush (4.7), second-last in passing yards (252.5 per game) and second-last in the league in points per game (21.5). However, on Friday night, just about everything the Eskimos did worked. The passing game was efficient and effective, with Edmonton finally able to get Stamps the ball consistently, while the ground game looked the best it had in a long while, thanks perhaps to the team's decision to focus on giving the ball to Hugh Charles instead of spreading it amongst their tailbacks. Charles rewarded the Eskimos' faith, collecting 67 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and adding another 37 yards on three catches.
Heading into this contest, there was a lot of confusion about how Edmonton's convoluted new offensive scheme (featuring Marcus Crandell demoted from offensive coordinator to quarterbacks coach, but still calling plays off a list provided by head coach and now titular offensive coordinator Kavis Reed, and working with consultant David Kelly to advise Reed) would work. This game shouldn't be seen as a complete endorsement of that system, as it's only one data point. It worked an awful lot better than many expected, though, and that's excellent news for the Eskimos. It's not a structure that most teams are going to go to any time soon, but if it works for Edmonton, fair enough; maybe the Eskimos are confusing opponents as well as observers.
What's perhaps most notable about Friday's game is its playoff implications. A Tiger-Cats' win would have substantially clarified the murky playoff picture, as they would have been one game up on the Eskimos with just four to go. Under those circumstances, Edmonton would have had to win two more games than Hamilton down the stretch in order to nab a crossover playoff berth, which would have been next to impossible. Instead, the Eskimos' win means that they're now 6-8 and a game ahead of the 5-9 Tiger-Cats (and they're also only one game behind Saskatchewan for third place in the West). That doesn't ensure that they'll grab a playoff spot; if Edmonton can't catch the Roughriders, the Tiger-Cats will only need to be one game better than the Eskimos down the stretch to prevent a crossover. Still, the Eskimos are far closer to the playoffs than they were entering Friday's game, and that's a pretty tremendous birthday present for Joseph.