"Struggling" is an adjective that is not generally applied to the Montreal Alouettes, but there is no doubt the perennial powerhouse has fallen on hard times this CFL season.
The Alouettes are off to a 2-4 start, and now go on the road Saturday to face a Saskatchewan Roughrider team looking to avenge its first loss of the season.
"It doesn't sit well with anybody," veteran quarterback Anthony Calvillo told reporters Friday. "We are just not accustomed to being 2-4. It's very disturbing."
Normally, this is the time of year when general manager Jim Popp would be touring NFL camps in search of import talent. Instead, he is on the sidelines as a replacement for fired head coach Dan Hawkins, trying to return the team to its former winning ways.
"It's an evaluation as much as anything," said Popp, who considers himself a "transition" coach. "And it seems like it's going in the right direction."
Calvillo is convinced that the talent is there and he says the players have confidence in the coaching staff.
"It's part of the cycle, part of football life," he said of the team's current woes, adding that he, personally, is determined to fight his way through it. "I'm not a quitter."
As scenarios go, Mosaic Stadium is not the ideal environment for a team that is sputtering as opposed to streaking. Popp knows that road games are a challenge at the best of times, and Ridervile in particular is "a very tough place" to play. The Roughriders announced a sellout crowd of 40,637 will take in Saturday's game.
Calvillo has always loved competing in Saskatchewan, owing to the energized and energizing atmosphere created by the hometown fans. "At the same time," he said, "we have a job to do."
For their part, the Roughriders are downplaying last week's 42-27 loss to the Stampeders that ended their bid at a perfect season.
"On defence, we could have done a lot more things, we know that," linebacker Craig Butler said. "This defence takes a lot of pride in everything we do. We'll bounce back."
Added defensive back Dwight Anderson: "This has been a great week in practice. I'm looking forward to [Saturday's] game."
Slotback Geroy Simon says he holds the Alouettes' defence in high regard, particularly the team's secondary.
"They're a veteran group and they play aggressively," he said. "I think we've just got to execute, that's all. We have to keep the ball out of [Calvillo's] hands. We need to come up with first downs."
Turning the page
Quarterback Darian Durant says the Riders are ready to move on from last week's loss.
"Definitely, the guys are a lot more motivated," he said. "[Last week] was a wake-up call for us and wake-up calls are good. We have to make sure we don't look behind us. We have to look ahead."
By "looking ahead," Durant does not mean looking past the Alouettes. Indeed, he has been cautioning his teammates not to judge Montreal on its record. "We can't take them lightly," he said. "They have weapons all over the place."
Although they have never been teammates, Durant has always admired Calvillo, for his ability to read defences and his penchant for building close relationships with his receivers. By observing Calvillo, he has also learned "how to be a pro."
As recently as Friday, Saskatchewan head coach Corey Chamblin discussed with his players the importance of regaining that "winning attitude." He has dismissed the loss in Calgary as simply being one of those things.
"It wasn't our night," he said.