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Andrew Bucholtz

Monday's Point After: Eskimos survive, keep hopes alive

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Welcome to Monday's Point After, a new feature we'll be running here at the start of every week. Here's your breakdown of all the highlights and lowlights from the past weekend's games. Score links go to video highlights of each game on the league's home page. If you've got suggestions for something you'd like to see covered here, get in touch with me by Twitter or e-mail.

Game of the week: Edmonton 37, Hamilton 35:

As I discussed yesterday on Twitter, the CFL seems to be following an odd pattern lately. The games that looked like intriguing matchups by and large haven't produced compelling on-field action, while matchups that appeared lopsided have produced some great games. This weekend was a case in point, as the clash of 9-3 teams in Calgary (which we'll get to later) became a disappointing blowout, while the 3-9 Eskimos somehow upset the 6-6 Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a highly entertaining game.

How'd the Eskimos pull this one off? Well, as the Edmonton Journal's Dan Barnes pointed out, it looked like they were doing many of the little things right in ways they hadn't been before. Perhaps most importantly, their offensive line actually gave Ricky Ray some pass protection; he was only sacked once and looked like the Ray of old thanks to having time to throw, completing 28 of 36 passes for 386 yards and two touchdowns. The Eskimos weren't great on the ground, with Calvin McCarty only picking up 44 yards on 15 carries and losing a fumble as well, and they couldn't consistently move the ball; they gave up two second-half safeties to move their total to 12 this year, already a CFL record. Still, the passing game was there, led by a superlative effort from Fred Stamps (pictured above trying to evade Hamilton safety Dylan Barker), who made 10 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown. McCarty was also effective as a pass-catching threat out of the backfield, hauling in seven catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.

The Eskimos' pass defence wasn't spectacular, but they did enough to get the job done. Kevin Glenn threw 26 completions on 37 attempts for 294 yards and two touchdowns, but those aren't awful totals to concede by Edmonton's standards, and they also picked Glenn off once. Perhaps most importantly, they held CFL receiving yards leader Arland Bruce III to 58 yards on four catches. That benefited Marquay McDaniel, who wound up with nine catches for 122 yards, but the Eskimos contained Hamilton's most dangerous threat, and that's impressive.

Edmonton rookie safety Elliott Richardson had another impressive week individually as well. Last week, he took home defensive player of the week and Canadian player of the week honours for his performance in the Touchdown Atlantic game. His alma mater Acadia lost to Saint Mary's this weekend, but Richardson won that rivalry at the CFL level, demolishing former Huskies' slotback Dave Stala with a massive hit:

The Eskimos' rushing defence wasn't as impressive, as Hamilton's DeAndra Cobb picked up 101 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. However, Cobb also committed a costly fumble, so that's a mark in Edmonton's favour. Overall, it wasn't a glowing performance from the Eskimos' defence, but it was competent, and it proved enough to win with their pass offence finally clicking.

What's the big picture of this result? Well, Edmonton isn't out of the playoff race yet despite their 4-9 record; they're only one game behind B.C., and the Lions' defeat of Winnipeg means a East-to-West crossover is becoming unlikely, so there will likely be three West playoff spots up for grabs. It's not even entirely out of the question that we could see a West to East crossover. Both Hamilton and Toronto are 6-7, but they've looked fragile lately; if one of them collapses spectacularly down the stretch and the Lions and Eskimos remain competent, all four West teams might wind up in the playoffs. That's highly unlikely, but this win by Edmonton means we can't rule it out entirely. More importantly, the Eskimos are still very much alive in the playoff race. They've got a tough hill to climb still, but if they play the way they have over the past two weeks, they might just be able to make something out of this season yet.

B.C. 16, Winnipeg 14: Through one half of play, this might have been the most boring game of the year. The Lions and new starting quarterback Travis Lulay were doing nothing offensively, and Winnipeg failed to capitalize on many of their own opportunities. The Bombers led 10-0 going into the break, and seemed likely to pick up a dull but important win. However, B.C. stormed out of the locker room, and led by Lulay's leap and Paul McCallum's clutch kicking, they somehow came away with a win.

Most of the offensive players on both sides looked pretty weak in this one overall. Both Lulay and Steven Jyles were largely shut down in the passing game. Lulay picked up 57 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, but B.C. running back Jamal Robertson only received seven carries and only got 30 yards. Winnipeg's Fred Reid picked up a decent 72 yards on 13 carries, and Bombers' receivers Terrence Edwards and Greg Carr were outstanding, combining for almost 200 yards on 11 catches, but those were isolated bright spots in the overall offensive gloom.

The most significant aspect of this game isn't anything that happened on the field, though, but rather the implications it has for the playoff race. B.C.'s now 5-9 and in the driver's seat for the final playoff berth. Winnipeg's 3-10 and facing an uphill battle that caused Ed Tait of The Winnipeg Free Press to declare their season "on life support" and their playoff chances "all but dead". Even the players seem all but resigned to being on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Winnipeg still theoretically has a chance, but they'd need to put in an incredible performance down the stretch, and they'd need several of the teams ahead of them to falter as well. That certainly doesn't seem too likely at the moment.

Saskatchewan 27, Toronto 16: Despite not taking a snap, Danny Brannagan's presence on the sidelines as the Argonauts' third-string quarterback may have been the most notable element of this one. Toronto's Dalton Bell was okay in his first CFL start, but was hardly spectacular against his old team; he completed 16 of 24 passes for 145 yards, but conceded a crucial fumble late in the game after taking a Keith Shologan hit.

There were bright spots for Toronto Saturday. Running back Cory Boyd returned after two weeks of dealing with physical and emotional injuries, and he was spectacular as usual. I quipped on Twitter that a more accurate name for the franchise at the moment would be "The Toronto Cory Boyds", as he seems to comprise about 90 per cent of the Argonauts' offence; he rushed 20 times for 145 yards. The Toronto defence was also decent for most of the afternoon, especially on the ground where they held Wes Cates to 18 yards on seven carries. They couldn't hold Darian Durant in check forever, though; he had one of his best outings of the year, completing 29 of 37 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns and rushing seven times for 47 yards and another touchdown.

Toronto may still be tied for second in the East with a 6-7 record, but they can't get complacent yet. They haven't looked particularly impressive for two straight weeks now, and they're going to need to pull better performances together to solidify their hold on a playoff spot. Their biggest concern has to be the passing game, which has been ineffective under both Lemon and Bell. Yes, Boyd is a superstar, but he can't do it alone. The Argonauts need more of a team effort if they're going to translate their promising moments into sustained success.

Calgary 46, Montreal 21: I feel bad for hyping this one up going into the weekend, but in my defence, I was hardly the only one. A clash of 9-3 teams from opposite divisions really should have been one of the best regular-season matchups of the year. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way; Calgary stormed out of the gate, took a 14-0 lead on just four offensive plays, and never looked back.

In the wake of making headlines for his attire instead of his play, Henry Burris turned in probably his best performance of the season. He only completed 19 of 28 passes, but threw for 412 yards and four touchdowns without a single interception. The Stampeders got a solid run game from Burris, Joffrey Reynolds and Jon Cornish as well, and their defence kept Anthony Calvillo contained. It would be tough to ask for much more from them.

The problem with this game is that I'm not sure it really tells us all that much, though. Yes, Montreal has some holes, particularly on defence, and they're not always great on the road. Yes, Calgary can be absolutely lights-out when that offence is clicking, but this is the same Stampeders team that put up 10 points at home against B.C. the week before. Their offence makes Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde look remarkably consistent by comparison. This isn't a result to ignore, but it needs to be kept in context with the rest of the season. Calgary and Montreal have the potential to be two of the league's most dominant teams, and that would seem to still be the case despite only one showing up Friday night.

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