VANCOUVER -- Want to know what happens when four of your team’s five starting offensive linemen have the grand total of three CFL starts between them, and your opponent in the regular-season opener is the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions?
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers learned the answer in the most punishing way possible here at BC Place Friday night, as Winnipeg starting quarterback Buck Pierce was sacked four times and did not even see the end of the first half of the first game of the 2012 season before he was sidelined with an apparent knee injury.
The final score in the game -- a 33-16 victory for the Lions -- was actually closer for a while than many were expecting in a game in which an already injury-decimated Winnipeg lineup was a heavy underdog. The Bombers were trailing just 16-10 heading into the fourth quarter, but a 59-yard punt return by the Lions’ Tim Brown early in the fourth quarter -- and a Bombers roughing penalty -- got B.C. to the Winnipeg 18-yard line. Three plays later, B.C. quarterback Travis Lulay scrambled for an eight-yard TD run, Lulay’s second rushing TD of the night.
That gave B.C. a 23-10 cushion at the time, more than enough on a night when the Bombers mustered just 51 yards of net offence in the first half and just 204 overall -- much of that coming on a late, meaningless TD drive -- in what was a horrendous debut for the much-anticipated new Winnipeg offensive scheme being implemented by new offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton.
As expected, Lions slotback Geroy Simon set the all-time CFL record for receiving yards, hauling down a 56-yard Lulay pass at 10:03 of the fourth quarter to vault him over the previous record-holder, former Bombers slotback Milt Stegall.
What no one was expecting Friday night, however -- although you could argue everyone should have been expecting it, given the woeful state of the Bombers offensive line -- was that the man the Bombers were counting on leading them to the long-awaited promised land of a Grey Cup this season would go down fewer than 30 minutes into the regular season.
The severity of Pierce’s knee injury wasn’t immediately clear last night. Officially, club spokesman Darren Cameron would only describe it as a "lower-body injury."
Sources indicated late last night that Pierce will be examined by doctors in Winnipeg today, but the club is cautiously optimistic he may have suffered only a knee bruise.
It’s not the first time Pierce has hurt his right knee. On July 16, 2010, Pierce hurt his right knee in a 28-7 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and missed three games before returning in mid-August.
The Bombers had to play last night without both of their projected starting offensive tackles for this season when Glenn January was a surprise scratch at game time. January has been hobbled with a leg injury for weeks, but unlike the Bombers' other injured starting offensive tackle, Andre Douglas, he made the trip to Vancouver and said as late as Thursday that he would start.
With January and Douglas both out and the Bombers offensive line already a major reconstruction work after the off-season departures of guard Brendan LaBatte and centre Obby Khan, the Bombers fielded an offensive line Friday night with first-time CFL starters Jordan Taormina and Paul Swiston at tackles, another first-time CFL starter in Chris Kowalczuk at centre, while Chris Greaves and his three career starts lined up at guard.
Only veteran guard Steve Morley had meaningful CFL experience last night and that wasn’t nearly enough against a B.C. front seven even Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice acknowledged this week was maybe the toughest in the CFL.
Pierce initially came up limping after B.C.’s third sack midway through the second quarter when he was crushed by B.C. tackle Eric Taylor.
Pierce returned for the next offensive series, but was crushed again, this time by Lions end Keron Williams. Pierce stayed in one more play, throwing an incomplete pass, and did not return again. Pierce finished just 3-9 for 11 yards.
Bombers backup Alex Brink entered the game for the final series of the first half and came out firing in the second half, leading the Bombers early in the third quarter on a seven-play, 47-yard drive that finished with Bombers slotback Terrence Edwards going up high in the end zone for a 14-yard TD catch -- the first Bombers major of the 2012 season.
The Bombers play again next Friday in Montreal against the Alouettes.