TORONTO - Anthony Calvillo and the Montreal Alouettes have come upon lean times since they last faced the Toronto Argonauts.
Montreal (3-2) has lost both games since its 40-17 home win over Toronto (1-4) on July 15, a contest that saw Calvillo break former Argo Damon Allen's all-time touchdown passes record. Since then, though, Calvillo has struggled by his lofty standards, completing just 50 per cent of his passes in losses to Saskatchewan and Hamilton.
The Alouettes visit the Argos on Thursday night at Rogers Centre with Calvillo having another of Allen's career records in sight. The 18-year CFL veteran needs just nine completions to surpass Allen (5,158) for the all-time CFL mark but predictably his main focus is getting the defending Grey Cup champions back on track.
"Each individual realizes right now we need a little bit more out of everybody and we've all accepted that," Calvillo said. "Especially from myself because I know location and accuracy on my part the last two games have been sub-par.
"You can't win games when you're throwing at 50 per cent. I realize that, it starts with me.''
Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman isn't surprised to hear his quarterback's rather harsh self assessment.
"He's never going to reach the expectations he wants because his expectation is to be perfect and he's going to critique himself very very hard," Trestman said. "He's holding himself accountable but probably to a fault as it's an entire offence situation and not just one guy.
"This is a new team and is dealing with the circumstance that we've lost two in a row. I'm excited to find out how we come out of this and see what we're made of.''
However, that's not to suggest Calvillo's taking a dim view on breaking Allen's records. He and his wife, Alexia, have both their respective cancer battles, which has made Calvillo more retrospective at this point in his career.
"With all the things that have happened in my life I do tend to appreciate things for the moment now and not wait until the end of my career," he said. "I'm not going to let it absorb my train of thought or take away from what we're trying to do.
"But at the end of the day when I go home I do like to sit back and discuss things with my wife and it has been an amazing journey on and off the field that we've had.''
There's little doubt Calvillo won't regain his passing touch considering he's a career 62.8 per cent career passer and has completed more than 60 per cent of his tosses the past eight seasons. Another factor working in Calvillo's favour, too, is the strength of Montreal's receiving corps.
S.J. Green had eight catches for 150 yards last week against Hamilton, while Jamel Richardson added seven receptions for 93 yards. Green is ranked second in CFL receiving with 25 catches for 430 yards (17.2-yard average) while Richardson is fourth with 29 catches for 401 yards. Brian Bratton has 17 catches for 205 yards but a team-high four have been for touchdowns.
And the unit was bolstered by the return of veteran Kerry Watkins, who had 56 catches for 970 yards and eight TDs last season.
Montreal has dominated Toronto of late, winning nine of the last 11 matchups. And the Alouettes haven't lost three straight games since 2008.
Calvillo was stellar in leading Montreal to three straight wins to open the regular season. But he suffered an eye injury in the first half of the Alouettes' 27-24 loss to Saskatchewan on July 24, completing 7-of-14 passes for 91 yards and an interception.
Last week against Hamilton, Calvillo finished 23-of-45 passing for 356 yards and a TD in a 34-26 road loss. But he was sacked three times and twice Montreal's offence mounted drives exceeding 80 yards but settled for field goals and another time had an 11-play march that netted just three points.
Penalties also hurt Montreal, which was flagged 14 times for 121 yards. Alouettes defensive lineman John Bowman returned a Hamilton fumble 27 yards in the third that was nullified by an illegal block call and led to a Ticats' field goal for a 20-13 lead.
"The discipline thing is one Marc has pointed out to the entire football team," Calvillo said. "It's always been there, I think every team has it but right now it's being over-emphasized especially in our lockerroom and it needs to be because it has been costing us yards, it has been costing us points and you don't have much room for error in this league this year.''
Toronto (1-4) will have a familiar face under centre with the return of incumbent Cleo Lemon. He missed last weekend's heart-breaking 26-25 road loss in Edmonton due to a cracked tooth that left the nerve exposed.
"I'm excited," he said. "I love playing in big games like this and to play Montreal is always a tough matchup and I look forward to it.''
Lemon suffered the injury after being hit in the first quarter by Winnipeg's Joe Lobendahn following a 14-yard run two weeks ago. It came after Lemon orchestrated a brilliant opening touchdown drive that saw him complete all five passes he attempted.
"It's his time right now," Argos head coach/GM Jim Baker said. "We're going to see these next few games whether the Winnipeg quarter was how Cleo Lemon is going to be as a quarterback in this league, which is good enough to win a Grey Cup, or whether he's going to be inconsistent.''
Turnovers and inconsistency have plagued Lemon this season. Lemon has completed 63-of-98 passes (64.3 per cent) for 728 yards but has more interceptions (three) than TDs (two). Both Lemon and rookie tailback Chad Kackert have committed a league-high four fumbles.
"(Lemon) has practised very well this week and knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball," Barker said. "That's the whole key with him, getting the ball out on time and making good decisions in the running game.
"His fumbles this year have come on poor decisions in the running game . . . he has to do a better job there of not turning the ball over.''
Lemon could also help himself by hook-sliding when running to better protect himself but says he's not about to change the way he plays the game.
"You don't think about it," he said. ''You're a football player and whatever you do in the heat of the battle, it happens.
"I'm going to continue to play football and whatever happens, happens.''
That's not exactly music to Barker's ears.
''It's easier said than done,'' Barker said. "But it's something he has to learn.