EDMONTON - The Edmonton Eskimos enjoyed a brief moment in the sun following just their second win of the season Saturday over Winnipeg. Then they were back on the field Monday with the realization that the victory might mean more pressure than relief.
"If we lose the rest of the season this one win means nothing," said defensive end Odell Willis. "We have a long way to go and we still have to put things together and keep climbing."
The 25-7 win snapped an eight-game losing streak and had the 2-9 Edmonton players thinking of the playoffs. After Montreal lost to the B.C. Lions on the weekend the Alouettes, third in the CFL Eastern Division, are just two wins ahead of the Eskimos in a cross-over scenario.
The key now, said defensive back T.J. Hill, is to build momentum and follow up with a repeat performance Friday in Winnipeg in the rematch with the 2-9 Blue Bombers.
"We know this game is going to be even harder," Hill said. "It's tough to beat a team twice, let alone two times in a row, week to week. We know it's going to be difficult going into a hostile environment and they're going to try to redeem themselves. We definitely have to be prepared mentally and physically."
Hill, second on the Eskimos in tackles with 51, said the win at home will give the team some momentum heading to Winnipeg. More than anything, however, there was a huge sigh of relief among the Eskimos.
"Oh, definitely, it was a long time coming since we had a win," Hill said. "There was that enjoyment of a win after the game. Any time you have a win, even when you do some things wrong, there's a feeling of relief, but we know we still have to improve, get better."
That's not always easy. The feeling after a loss is that you have to work harder and improve, but after a win there can be a false sense that you don't have to get any better.
So now the pressure is on the Eskimos to find a way to win back-to-back games.
The Bombers came into Edmonton on a high after upsetting the No. 1 ranked Saskatchewan Roughriders but found out quickly that they couldn't maintain the same intensity against the Eskimos.
Hill said the key to consistency is in extra preparation.
"You try to dig a little deeper and go a little harder," he said. "The same preparation but just put a little extra into it, try to go that extra six inches, that extra weight in the weight room, extra five or 10 minutes in the meeting room, extra couple of reps in practice. Same preparation but just extend it a bit more. That way you better yourself in all aspects, mentally and physically."
Willis said it was business as usual after the win, but he's on the defence that has been much better than the offence all season. The Esks defence has given up just 29 points in the last two games and has 12 quarterback sacks in the last three.
"That's the expectation we have for this D line and the defence," said Willis, who is tied for the team lead with five sacks and two forced fumbles. "It took a while to jell and get it going, but now that it's going I expect nothing less from me or the rest of the D line."
The Eskimos released two import players Monday: defensive end Nekos Brown and offensive lineman Branden Curry.