Needless to say, the Saskatchewan Roughriders' season opener couldn't have gone much better. But let's note that the game was somewhat closer than it may have appeared on the scoreboard - even while highlighting what parts of the game may bode very well for the 'Riders' chances in 2012.
To start with, we shouldn't forget that the Ticats had plenty of chances to take the game in a different direction - with a long touchdown pass called off on a penalty, and two near-interceptions dropped by Geoff Tisdale. Those plays may not have made all the difference on the scoreboard, but the second half would likely have played out differently if the 'Riders hadn't held the advantage on the scoreboard.
That said, those types of plays which can create a gap between the scoreboard and the flow of the game are inevitable. And on the latter front, the 'Riders managed to outperform Hamilton through most of the game.
For the 'Riders' offense, even the solid scoring and yardage numbers didn't tell the whole story. Instead, there were two twists in how the team put up 43 points and 500 yards that look rather promising for the season to come.
First, there was a possible new step in Darian Durant's development as a quarterback. In the past, his success has largely been based on a combination of scrambling ability and a willingness to take risks. But on Friday he was able to control the play much more than in the past: most of his throws not only found their receivers but connected at just the right time and place, meaning that in addition to completing passes Durant gave his receivers every opportunity to make plays after the catch.
And that was the second revelation from the 'Riders' opener. Yes, Weston Dressler has been elusive in the past - but I don't recall him ever leaving quite as many defenders grabbing at thin air as he did Friday night. And Kory Sheets was roughly on par with Dressler's shiftiness as both a rusher and a receiver, while at least a couple of other receivers also managed to manufacture big plays out of slipped tackles.
Of course, an improved offensive line went a long way toward allowing for the boosts in timing and playmaking we saw on Friday. But if Durant and his receivers can go beyond merely playing a possession game and turn small windows into massive gains, then the 'Riders offense may be better than we've seen in a long time.
On defence, the 'Riders were mostly effective but unspectacular. The most promising sign was the combination of sacks and Hamilton holding penalties (suggesting that the 'Riders' pass rush indeed managed to make a difference). But there were a couple of breakdowns in the 'Riders' own tackling, and there looks to be plenty of room for the secondary to make more plays than it did against the Ticats.
That said, there's much more reason for optimism than concern based on the 'Riders' season opener. And we'll find out soon whether the 'Riders can keep up the pace.