TORONTO – It wasn’t the type of bounce-back performance the Toronto Argonauts were looking for.
A week after a disappointing loss in B.C., the defending Grey Cup champions failed to shutdown the surging Saskatchewan Roughriders – the lone undefeated team in the CFL – falling 39-28.
“It’s certainly very disappointing,” said Argos' head coach Scott Milanovich, whose team now sits at 1-2 on the season. “I really felt like we had a good week of practice. ...Obviously we just got a lot of work left to do.”
On defence is where the Argonauts appeared to struggle most Thursday. Heading into the Week 3 matchup, one of the biggest questions looming over the Argonauts was whether or not they could contain Roughriders running back Kory Sheets, who came into the night leading the CFL with 264 rushing yards. While they neutralized him relatively well in the first half, limiting him to 49 rushing yards, the 28-year-old broke through in the second half and finished the game with 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
And he wasn’t the only piece of the Roughriders offence that gave the Argonauts trouble. Although Darian Durant’s top two receiving targets, Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf, were relatively ineffective for most of the game, combining for just four catches and 36 yards, the Roughriders' pivot connected with wide receiver Taj Smith for the two biggest offensive plays of the night.
With the Riders ahead 14-11 and time running down in the first half Durant aired it out to a wide-open Smith for a 61-yard touchdown pass. Then midway through the third quarter Durant and Smith connected again, this time for a 70-yard touchdown that put the Riders up 29-14, a hole too deep for the Argos to dig out of.
“The first [Smith touchdown] was a little bit of a double move and Darian [Durant] pumped an out route and I just think we maybe came off our coverage a little early there,” Milanovich said. “The second was a great throw and the receiver did a good job of kind of leaning into [Argonauts' DB] Jalil [Carter] and creating some separation that allowed him to get into the endzone.”
Durant threw for 245 and three touchdowns on 14 of 19 passing, but left the game with about nine minutes remaining with an undisclosed injury. On the other side of the field, Argonauts' quarterback Ricky Ray, who completed his first 12 passes to start the game, finished 27-for-37 and threw for 334 yards and a touchdowns
The Argonauts also failed to catch a break earlier in the game that could have provided a change in momentum. With his team ahead 11-7 in the second quarter Argos defensive back Jamie Robinson appeared to intercept a Durant pass and take it 88 yards for a touchdown, but a pass interference call negated the touchdown and Sheets plunged into the Argos end zone moments later.
“That’s a tough call and it’s part of the game,” Carter said. “Every call is not going to go your way, period . . . When something like that happens you just got to bounce back, which I feel like we didn’t do like we should have.”
But Carter isn't phased. Though it's the second time in just three games that the Argos have surrendered 30-plus points to an opponent and he was the defender who Smith beat on the 70-yard touchdown, he's confident in himself and his teammates and believes it's only a matter of time before the Argos defence pulls it all together.
“We’re a new group, we’re making strides and we’re headed in the right direction. Once we get it, there’s going to be trouble.”