Chris Jones says tough to blame crossover when 0-2 start left Riders in a hole

Saskatchewan head coach and GM Chris Jones said Monday that there’s no point blaming the CFL playoff structure for the Roughriders’ exit from the post-season.

The Roughriders were eliminated Sunday after dropping a 25-21 decision to the Argonauts. Saskatchewan finished fourth in the West Division and crossed over to play both Ottawa and Toronto on the road.

Jones said if Saskatchewan took advantage of missed opportunities at the start of the campaign, then the Roughriders may have had a better seeding and maybe even a home playoff date.

“We had a chance to win two football games and start the season off hot,” he said Monday. “It ended up we were 0-2 and had to dig ourselves out of a hole, and then we were up and down, up and down, for the rest of the year.”

Montreal edged Saskatchewan 17-16 in the season opener and Winnipeg outscored the Roughriders 43-40 in Week 2.

Saskatchewan went on to finish 10-8, a record that would have been good enough for first place in the weak East Division. However, as a crossover team, the Roughriders had to hit the road to play the 8-9-1 Redblacks in the East semifinal before visiting 9-9 Toronto with a Grey Cup berth on the line.

The Roughriders were attempting to become the first crossover team to reach the Grey Cup since the rule was adopted in 1996. Rather than returning home after their win in the nation’s capital, the team stayed in the East to prepare for the Argonauts.

“We knew the deal,” Jones said at his season-ending availability. “If we didn’t want to go cross over and stay in a hotel for 10 days, then we should have handled our business at the first part of the year.”

Saskatchewan nearly pulled out the victory on a chilly, wind-swept afternoon at BMO Field. The Roughriders pulled ahead in the fourth quarter but Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray led the Toronto offence on a 67-yard drive, capped by Cody Fajardo’s one-yard TD run with 23 seconds left.

“We played a very good football team,” Jones said. “We fell a little bit short.”

The Argonauts will meet the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup on Sunday in Ottawa.

Given that it had been less than 24 hours since the defeat, Jones said it was premature to provide details on plans for the team’s free agents and potential changes to the 2018 roster.

“I love this group,” he said. “I think the character in the room is comparable to some of the best teams that we’ve ever been around. I know that they’re going to work, I know that. I know that they’re not going to quit.”

Saskatchewan made strides in a number of areas over the last year, and the Roughriders doubled their regular-season win total from 2016.

“I think we’ve evolved from a team that just wanted to try to win a game last year to a team that can beat anybody on a given day,” Jones said.

-CP

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