The Saskatchewan Roughriders are seriously teetering on a cliff right now.
The Green & White were denied a fourth-consecutive victory Saturday night in Calgary when they lost 29-25 to the Stampeders. It clinched top spot for the Stamps and means if the Riders want to get to the Grey Cup they'll have to beat BC in the semifinal here in Regina, then go to Calgary to upset the mighty Stampeders just get back home and face Kent Austin's Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL title game on November 24 (that's my bold prediction and has been since the spring).
How are the Riders teetering on the brink of extinction so far in advance of the Grey Cup? Well after this week's throwaway game at home against Edmonton to conclude the regular season they'll enter the perilous single-elimination tournament. At this critical juncture it remains to be seen if the Riders are peaking at the right time or "firing on all cylinders", whatever that means. I was never much into cars.
So while the Stampeders were putting the finishing touches on their first-place finish the other night, effortlessly switching up quarterbacks as if coach John Hufnagel was shifting gears in a Mercedes, the Roughriders were stuck on the side of the road, looking under the hood amidst a pile of steam.
That's the way it looked to me. The sideline blow up between Rider tailback Kory Sheets and offensive coordinator George Cortez was so troubling you wanted to look away and after the game Rider defensive back Dwight Anderson fumed to reporters, "Calgary sucks!"
Even the most dyed-in-the-wool Rider supporter would think to ask Dwight, "so where does that leave you?"
Really the most troubling thing right now is the frustration of the Riders' undisputed MVP Kory Sheets. He was limited to 42 yards on 11 carries and the strategy was unclear; did the Riders abandon the run because Sheets wasn't getting early yards or was he never really part of the game plan in the first-place? Even Sheets himself doesn't know and it took veteran slotback Geroy Simon to calm him down going into the half at McMahon Stadium.
"Honestly I just said use that emotion on the field," Simon shrugged. "Guys get heated and they get emotional and frustrated. Guys gotta try to calm each other down but at some point you gotta let guys be themselves and vent. If it's on the sidelines it has to be channeled the right way but if it's on the field you can use that to motivate you."
Upon the team's return to Regina head coach Corey Chamblin said they aren't "mentally tough enough" in some areas at this point in time and the Sheets blow-up is another sign of where they are as a team right now.
Peaking at the right time? Hardly.
But there's time to figure it out and that's generally what they do best. Losing streaks are followed up by winning streaks around here and if the Riders were to clinch first-place and win the Grey Cup they would have had to string together eight-straight victories going back to Week 15 in BC.
That's highly unlikely if not impossible for this team to do. So they'll regroup, recharge and tune up against Edmonton before attempting to eliminate the BC Lions who will likely still be without top pivot Travis Lulay.
Then a trip to Calgary and the Western Final looms on the horizon and the Riders' odds are just as good as the Stampeders' in that one. Home teams are 5-5 over the past decade in CFL West Finals.
It really was a razor-thin loss in Calgary in a game in which the Riders shot off almost all of their toes. They're going to work to fix these things for the game that really counts.
Sometimes it's better to be the hunter than the hunted.
(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)