When the season began, slow starts plagued the Edmonton Eskimos. In their past three losses, the inability to finish strong has done them in – the latest example being a 23-20 loss to the Calgary Stampeders at McMahon Stadium on Monday.
How to remedy one or the other, and preferably both, starting with Saturday’s rematch with the Stampeders (9-1) at Commonwealth Stadium, is the challenge facing the Eskimos. At 6-5, the Eskimos have fallen back into the West Division pack because too often this season they haven’t been good enough in either end of the game.
“I don’t care how you win a football game, as long as you win it,” quarterback Mike Reilly said. “There’s been a lot of games where at the end we haven’t finished how we wanted to, and it has cost us.
“Early in the season, the start wasn’t so great. We’re capable of playing great football in each individual [quarter], but you’d like to put it all together.”
Leading 17-10 at halftime in Calgary, the Eskimos were outscored 13-3 the rest of the way. In a 25-24 loss to Hamilton, the Eskimos were up 24-10 at the half and didn’t score another point. In a 31-23 loss against the BC Lions, Edmonton led 20-10 at halftime.
Add it up, and the Eskimos have been outscored 49-6 in those six quarters of second-half football.
“I’m a positive thinker, so I look at the negative things, correct them and move on,” head coach Jason Maas said. “There was plenty of negative, but there was a lot of positives to be drawn out of that [Calgary] game, so that’s what we’ve focused on.
“I told our guys all week to let the bad things simmer and let the bad things motivate you, and they should, but you have to learn from them. Those are great learning experiences.”
The Eskimos have made a habit of coming back from deficits in recent seasons with fourth-quarter fireworks under Reilly. They did it to open this season in a 33-30 win in Winnipeg. In recent weeks, however, the Eskimos haven’t been able to generate enough points to hold on to leads late in games.
“You want to win a championship at the end,” Maas said. “You’ve got to learn some lessons throughout the year. Obviously, there was tons of them to learn in that game, the mistakes. You also learn from the positive things as well.
“I’d rather just focus on those things. On a short week, when you want to be mentally as good as you can be, you better be thinking positively going into this game. Our guys will be ready. They’ll be a bit [ticked] off, I think, like anybody would, but they’re going to be positive and ready to play.”
The difference in Calgary was three turnovers in a span of nine plays in the fourth quarter. That, and an illegal contact call against Chris Edwards that prolonged a Calgary drive with the game tied 20-20 and resulted in the winning field goal by Rene Paredes with no time on the clock.
“We played hard, yeah, whatever,” defensive back Aaron Grymes said. “We held them to whatever points. None of that matters right now. We lost the game.
“We’ve got to fix those mistakes, take the good from those games, not just the Calgary game but the other games that we’ve lost in the back half of the game, and figure out a way to finish.”