And with that, we now resume our regularly scheduled horror show.
Whatever designs Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans — and their team — had on turning around this 2012 season following a 34-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats a week ago were extinguished in the span of 14 minutes and 24 seconds Saturday night at Canad Inns Stadium.
That’s how long it took the visiting Toronto Argonauts — playing with a backup quarterback making his first professional start since 2010 — to rack up a 21-0 lead on a Winnipeg Blue Bombers team that had every reason to rise to this occasion and instead found a whole new low in a season that has been a never-ending search for new levels of the subterranean.
Undisciplined penalties, seven turnovers, dropped passes and a starting quarterback who took more abuse in two quarters than any man should take in a lifetime all combined to gift-wrap a 29-10 victory for the Argonauts and lay bare the flaws of a team that is unmistakably — and probably irrevocably — every bit as bad as their 3-10 regular season record suggests.
If it seemed gutless — again — that’s because it was — again. And an impassioned Bombers running back Chad Simpson — who carried just seven times on a night Winnipeg fell so far behind so quickly — says it is now time for the men of the home locker-room at Canad Inns Stadium to decide what kind of men — not just football players — they want to be.
"There’s some guys that need to look at themselves in the mirror," said Simpson. "You have to ask yourself, ‘Am I going to accept this as a man?’ Forget football, forget everything else — ‘Am I going to accept losing as a man?’ This ain’t just about losing here. You’re going to have tough times in your job when you’re done with this.
"Are you going to accept the losses there? The real world is harder. You have to feed your family."
Alas, they may have no choice but to accept even more losing.
As dismal as this script has already played out, the next chapter reads even darker. The Bombers next game is in Montreal on Thanksgiving Monday against an East Division-leading Alouettes team that is 6-1 at home. And then the Bombers return home to face a Calgary Stampeders team that embarrassed them 44-3 at McMahon Stadium just a few weeks ago.
And if all that wasn’t enough — and it is much, much more than that — the immediate future of Winnipeg starting quarterback Buck Pierce is once again in doubt after he took a malicious beating from the Argos defence in the first half and did not return to play the second half, held back as a precaution with what team officials described as "headaches."
Pierce took at least three hard hits in the first half, but the one that appeared to do the most damage was a savage — and illegal — helmet-to-helmet hit on the second-last play of the first quarter by Argos linebacker Brandon Isaac.
The hit drew a flag, sent Pierce to the locker-room for stitches and had Pierce reporting headaches to team doctors within a half hour — which can be a symptom of acute concussions. Pierce has a history of concussions going back to his time with the B.C. Lions — the Lions have said they let him go in part because of them — but Bombers head coach Tim Burke said Saturday night he’s hopeful
Pierce didn’t suffer an actual concussion — but couldn’t yet rule it out.
Asked if he expected Pierce to play in Montreal, Burke replied: "As of right now, I’d say yes."
The answer to that question could very well be decisive for the rest of Winnipeg’s season. While the Bombers tiny playoff hopes were hammered by the loss — they are now two wins behind both Hamilton and Edmonton — it will be at least a few more games before they could be mathematically eliminated.
But without Pierce at the Bombers controls, history suggests even a tiny glimmer of hope is extinguished. Since the start of the 2011 season, the Bombers are 11-10 in games which Pierce starts — and 2-8 in games in which he doesn’t.
Bombers backup QB Joey Elliott was 20-of-30 for 173 yards against Toronto, but most of that came with the game out of reach and the three interceptions Elliott tacked on to his numbers did nothing to inspire confidence.
Winnipeg actually registered more yards in net offence — 332-313 — than Toronto, but this game turned on the 12 penalties for 102 yards that Winnipeg took, the seven turnovers to just one for Toronto and the two challenges that Argos head coach Scott Milanovich won, one overturning a first-quarter, 67-yard apparent fumble return for a touchdown by Winnipeg defensive lineman Kenny Mainor.