Only in the CFL’s East Division could a 3-9 team find themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt, but the Ottawa Redblacks aren’t going to let the absurdity of their situation diminish their focus on the opportunity in front of them.
“We’re not going to apologize for what division we play in or wherever we’re at, all we can focus on is the here and now and that’s where we are,” general manager Shawn Burke told fans during the Redblacks’ QB Club this week.
“We have six games to go, we can still control our own destiny, but we’ve got to start being about it and not talking about it. We talked about that as an organization and as a team today, and that’s all you can ask at the end of the day in athletics, is to have a chance to get to the dance.”
Despite plenty of wheeling and dealing by Burke’s new regime in the offseason, Ottawa has remained mired at the bottom of the CFL standings for a third consecutive season. Nevertheless, they remain just three games out of a playoff spot and four out of first place in the East as they enter the stretch run of the season.
The Redblacks are set to face divisional rivals in five of their six final games, beginning with a clash with the East-leading Toronto Argonauts on Saturday. The slate also includes home-and-home series versus Hamilton and Montreal, meaning that the struggling franchise can determine their own playoff fate.
Heading into Saturday, the season series with the Argos is tied at one game a piece. Coming off a productive bye week, the Redblacks are looking to avenge their 24-19 loss in Week 14 — one that derailed a two-game win streak sparked by Nick Arbuckle’s injection into the lineup at quarterback. The team has yet to string together three solid offensive games in a row, but has remained competitive in virtually every contest.
“You can argue, week to week, that our execution hasn’t been there all the time, but our demeanour, our physicality, our compete level has been there week in and week out and that’s something I truly admire about this team,” Burke noted. “Now it’s about putting it together for 60 minutes in all three phases.”
The bigger challenge may be their inability to win at home, as the Redblacks have not claimed victory at TD Place in nearly a calendar year. The team is 1-20 over their last 21 home contests, a result that isn’t sitting right with the rabid members of R-Nation.
“It’s frustrating for all parties. Our players are getting asked about it and our staff, obviously we don’t like hearing about it. There’s nothing more you want to do than win games at home for your fan base,” Burke acknowledged.
However, while winning at home against Toronto might be especially sweet, the team’s architect stresses that victories now must occur regardless of the venue.
“The reality is, we have six football games left and they can be in Nunavut, they can be in Ottawa, or they can be in Halifax, we have to win them,” he stressed.
“That’s what’s ahead of us is winning football games, no matter where they are. Not worrying about if it’s a home game, if it’s an away game, if it’s a short week, if it’s a long week; it’s a football game that the Ottawa Redblacks need to win.”