TORONTO, ONTARIO, - Like an escape artist adding another straitjacket or padlock to his performance, the Toronto Argonauts have been making life difficult for themselves.
Penalties. Turnovers. Mistakes.
"That's kind of been our story all year," quarterback Ricky Ray said after Friday's 44-32 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. "The stuff that we're kind of doing to ourselves. ... We have the guys and we have the coaching. It's just we've got to be a little bit more disciplined when we play."
The Bombers (5-11) sandwiched touchdowns around a Chad Owen kickoff return fumble in a first quarter that saw the Argo offence run four plays. And Winnipeg killed off the game in the dying minutes by forcing a Ray fumble.
Penalties cost another 71 yards and even more momentum as the Argos (7-9) lost their fifth game in six outings despite the return of Ray from a knee injury.
"We have a good football team. We're just not playing solid football," said Ray, who played with a brace. "That's what good football teams do. They don't have a lot of penalties, they don't turn the football over, they don't give the other team momentum and extra chances.
"And that's what we've been doing as a football team. We've been taking a lot of penalties that keep their drives going or hurt our drives. Obviously turning the football over, giving them momentum. Those are the things that are killing us and we can control those things."
Toronto coach Scott Milanovich had no silver bullet.
"We've talked about penalties all year," he said. "The mistakes are things that are going to happen in a football game. Chad Owens didn't want to fumble that ball, our guys didn't want to get out of their (designated) gaps. We just have to keep coaching them, we have to do a batter job and I have to do a better job of getting them prepared to play football."
Ray seemed ready, completing 20 of 33 passes for 383 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to Jason Barnes.
Without him, Toronto averaged 197 yards passing per outing in going 1-2.
"Considering how long he's been out, I thought he played tremendously," Milanovich said of Ray. "Now he's going to look on film and tell you there was about four passes he missed that he should not have missed. But considering everything he's been through — one day of practise, getting sacked in the second play of the game — I thought he played very well."
Ray's late fumble, forced by J.T Gilmore and picked up by Andre Caroll, was the result of some diligent Winnipeg coverage.
The Argo quarterback was getting ready to throw to Maurice Mann when the defence covered him.
"I was just trying to reset and come out to Chad in the flat there and I just wasn't able to get it out quick enough or kind of get it tucked back in," he explained. "That's stuff we work on every day — two hands on the ball. I just happened to take my hand off of it, getting ready to throw and I've got to do a better job of protecting it."
Barnes took little solace in his three-TD night.
"At the end of the day we lost," he said.