Sun Nov 21 04:38pm EST
Today, the Toronto Argonauts proved the immutable law of the CFL: you may succeed for a while without a good quarterback, but it's awfully difficult to get to a Grey Cup without one. Last week, they won a tough playoff game in Hamilton thanks to strong performances by their ground game, special teams and defence. It's occasionally possible to win CFL games when your starting quarterback throws for only 134 yards, but it doesn't happen very often.
If last week was the exception, this week proved the rule. Lemon actually improved his yardage total to 169 yards today, but only completed 11 of 21 passes and threw two interceptions. That simply isn't enough to win in the CFL. Cory Boyd was held in check too, only rushing eight times for 43 yards before leaving with a severe-looking injury. The Argonauts' offence lived up to its two-star rating, and the defence and special teams' didn't perform up to their expectations. The Alouettes jumped out to a 17-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and never looked back en route to a dominant 48-17 victory.
The real question is why Toronto stuck with Cleo Lemon for so long despite a string of awful performances. I've been arguing for a long while that they should have at least tried another quarterback, as Lemon hasn't really demonstrated much of anything this season. Look, low yardage totals (Lemon's 3,433 passing yards were sixth in the league) are understandable if you have a run-based offence, and the Argonauts have the best running back in the league in Boyd. What's more disturbing is that Lemon never showed much of an ability to even manage the game; his regular-season completion percentage of 61.7 per cent was below six other quarterbacks who started this year, and his 19 interceptions were third in the league. He also tied Darian Durant for the league lead in fumbles, recording 13 despite carrying the ball only 39 times.
Despite all that, head coach Jim Barker continued starting Lemon and defending him week after week. It's possible he didn't have much faith in backups Dalton Bell, Ken Dorsey and Danny Brannagan, and he did see them week-in and week-out in practice. From that standpoint, rolling Lemon out week after week made at least a little sense. However, Barker's comments were generally that Lemon's win-loss record justified his continual starting role despite poor play, and that's an erroneous line of thinking that almost proved disastrous in Winnipeg this year. Generally, teams win and lose games, not quarterbacks. The Argonauts lost this one as a team, but one of the key reasons was their lacklustre performance at quarterback, and that's thanks to an ill-founded belief in Lemon's ability.
Toronto doesn't have a lot to be ashamed of. They were 3-15 last season, after all, so a 9-9 record, a playoff win and a berth in the East Final is a significant improvement. They're making real progress under Barker, and they have a lot of talented pieces, including Boyd, Andre Durie, Chad Owens and Willie Pile. They need a talented quarterback to take the next step, though, and I don't think Lemon is the man for the job. We'll see what they do in the off-season.
For Montreal, they delivered yet another incredible performance for head coach Marc Trestman (pictured above getting a celebratory Gatorade bath), and they’ll get a chance to defend the Grey Cup. They’ve got the pieces to do so, too; Anthony Calvillo completed 19 of 26 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns (although he was intercepted one), and Avon Cobourne had a great day on the ground (17 rushes for 163 yards and a touchdown). The defence also did well, holding Toronto to just 9 points in the first three quarters and only conceding a touchdown late in garbage time.
It's worth remembering that this kind of dominant performance doesn't ensure a Grey Cup victory, though. The Alouettes thumped B.C. 56-18 in last season's East Final, and went on to only win the Grey Cup by one point on a late field goal that only happened because of a Saskatchewan too-many-men penalty. The Alouettes have appeared in the Grey Cup seven times since 2000, but have only won twice. We'll see if they're able to add a third next week.