EDMONTON — The fact of the matter is the final score -- 24-10 for the Edmonton Eskimos -- actually flattered the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a game in which they were out-hustled from the opening kickoff, out-muscled on the line of scrimmage and overwhelmingly out-played in every aspect of the game.
And so now it is back to the drawing board for the coaching staff of a Bombers club that has now lost five of their last seven games -- after starting the season at 7-1 -- and have proven maddeningly unable in the past two months to string two good games together, something that is a prequisite to any designs Winnipeg may have on a championship run this season.
"They came to play and we didn’t," said Bombers running back Chris Garrett, who mustered 89 hard-fought yards on the ground and was perhaps the only thing that did work for the Bombers offensively. "To lose how we lost -- I’m speechless really. I don’t have any words. I sure didn’t expect that to happen."
Indeed, a week after putting together what was, by universal acclaim, their strongest performance of the season in a road win over Hamilton, the Bombers came out flat at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday night, fell behind early -- spotting the Eskimos a touchdown on their opening offensive drive -- and never did get any traction on offense.
Winnipeg managed just 70 yards passing in the first half in a performance so anemic that it had Bombers defensive end Jason Vega leading the team in receiving yards after two quarters, courtesy of a 19-yard pass Vega caught from backup Alex Brink on a 2nd and 1 razzle-dazzle in the first quarter.
It didn’t get much better in the second half, either, as Pierce finished the night 19-33 for a paltry 143 yards and 3 interceptions -- all of the picks coming in the second half as the Bombers proved unable to mount a credible comeback attempt.
The only Bombers scoring was provided by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by backup QB Alex Brink in the third quarter -- that gave Winnipeg momentary life at 14-10 -- and an 11-yard field goal by Justin Palardy in the first quarter.
"I just have to give credit to those guys -- they played better than us," said Pierce. "Consistency -- that’s the name of the game and we didn’t have it tonight. It’s disappointing."
Pierce, however, was not solely -- or even mostly -- to blame for this debacle. The Bombers QB was sacked five times, face-masked twice, roughed two more times and hurried too many times to mention. Oh, and the Bombers receivers dropped at least five catchable balls.
And then there was the punt by embattled Bombers punter Mike Renaud late in the third quarter that gained Winnipeg the grand total of just 12 net yards and gave Edmonton the ball on the Winnipeg 29. Four plays later, the ball was in the Winnipeg endzone and Edmonton had a 21-10 lead that was more than enough offence against Winnipeg on this night.
Winnipeg also lost two key contributors to injury. Bombers slotback Clarence Denmark, who was levelled in the first quarter by Edmonton linebacker Rod Davis, did not return for the second half. And Bombers linebacker Clint Kent left the game in the third quarter after taking an awkward hit.
Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said Denmark hurt his shoulder and Kent banged his head, but neither injury is believed to be serious.
"Offensively, we just didn’t get in a rhythm," LaPolice said. "We dropped a couple balls and we had a couple of (interceptions) we’d like to get back. We have to play all around better."
The loss drops Winnipeg’s season record to 9-6. The 9-5 Montreal Alouettes play the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Montreal today and can take over sole posession of first place in the East Division with a victory.
The Als and Bombers play each other next Saturday at Canad Inns Stadium. The good news is that even with a Montreal win today, Winnipeg could still take over sole posession of first place next weekend because a win over the Alouettes would give the Bombers the season series -- and the first tiebreaker -- between the two clubs.