The Toronto Argonauts slotback may be coming off a season in which he led the CFL in receiving yards (1,382), set a new single-season all purpose yards record (3,863) and took home the league’s most outstanding player award, but none of last year’s achievements are going to help his team in attempting to repeat as Grey Cup champions.
A new season means a clean slate and Owens says he’s going to do his best not to make changes to the game that brought him so much success last year, even though he knows teams are going to hone in on him.
“If we know that teams are going to be double covering or we see that, it’s up to the coaches to make changes,” Owens said after the Argos' thrilling 39-34 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their season opener Friday night.
Owens says he was aware Hamilton was attempting to shut him down in double coverage at points during the game Friday and he feels that awareness helped lead to one of Jason Barnes’ two touchdown catches.
“On Jason Barnes’ [second] touchdown, I don’t know if you noticed, but as soon as I came out I felt both guys jumped me and I put my head up and [Barnes] is wide open by himself and sure enough Ricky [Ray] bought some time and threw it out there.
“We got too much talent across the board. You double-team me, you’re going to leave Dontrelle Inman [or others] wide open. We have playmakers across the board.”
He may not have looked like the league’s most outstanding player, but Owens, who was also named No. 1 on TSN's top 50 players list, quietly led his team in receiving with nine catches for 95 yards and the Argos offence as a whole appeared to have picked up right where they left off in 2012 playing in front of 29,852 fans inside the Rogers Centre, the largest crowd for an Argos home game since their 2009 home opener. Ricky Ray threw four touchdown passes on 24 of 34 passing and Chad Kackert ran for 112 yards and a touchdown–with a breakthrough 57-yard run early in the second quarter.
Owens didn’t pick up a touchdown, but the 31-year-old made catches at key points during the game, two specifically on a fourth quarter drive that eventually led to Dontrelle Inman’s touchdown with 5:11 left to play, which proved to be the difference.
“Chad [Owens] made some very big plays to keep drives alive,” Argos head coach Scott Milanovich said in his post-game press conference. “I think he caught everything that was thrown to him [and] made some key returns. He felt like Chad to me. I don’t think he had any opportunities to get real deep and make a lot of big plays, but I felt like he at least did his job, if not more than that.”
In the end, however, it was the Argos defence, which struggled in the first half, that sealed the win. With the Ticats deep in Argos territory, Cleyon Laing and Nekos Brown came up with back-to-back sacks that forced a Hamilton punt and then on the final play of the game defensive back Jalil Carter did just enough to prevent Andy Fantuz from making the game-winning catch in the end zone.
“It felt like the  East Final,” Owens said of the final play. “That last throw when [Anthony] Calvillo tried to hit [Brian] Bratton in the end zone. I was just praying. We needed this one. It’s a great start for us.”