HAMILTON -- And in the end, the 2012 Winnipeg Blue Bombers went out exactly like they came in -- outmuscled, outhustled, outmanned and with their starting quarterback watching the end of the game in street clothes.
For the third time in the last four seasons, the Bombers will watch the Canadian Football League playoffs on television after they were eliminated from post-season contention with a gutless 28-18 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats here Saturday afternoon in the regular season farewell for Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The loss also means that the Bombers have set a new franchise record for futility with a Grey Cup drought that has now lasted 22 complete seasons. The previous longest drought between championships in Winnipeg was 21 seasons.
"It hurts. It hurts a lot," said safety Ian Logan. "I’ve been through this a few times in Winnipeg where we haven’t made playoffs. It hurts. I really thought we had enough talent in this locker room to make the playoffs.
"And it hurts the way we lost because we got down so early."
Indeed, playing in a game that was a must-win for both teams, only one side -- Hamilton -- actually showed up for the first quarter as the Bombers quickly fell behind 14-0 on first quarter Hamilton touchdowns by wide receiver Chris Williams -- on a 19-yard catch and run -- and by defensive end Greg Peach, who scooped up a Buck Pierce fumble on the Bombers 1-yard line and rumbled into the Winnipeg endzone.
Pierce appeared to be in a throwing motion when he fumbled, but a review of the play upheld the on-field ruling of a touchdown.
Pierce returned for one series after the fumble, but then left the game with what appeared to be an injury to his right shoulder. Pierce did not return -- the fourth time in his seven starts in 2012 that Pierce failed to finish a game due to injury, a run that also included his very first start in Week 1 in BC this year. The Bombers lost all four of those games and are now just 1-10 since 2010 in games in which Pierce has started but failed to finish due to injury.
Pierce also missed 10 other games entirely in 2012 due to injury and Saturday’s latest aborted start is sure to once again renew calls for Bombers management to find a replacement for Pierce at starting quarterback for next season. The Bombers are 12-5 since 2010 in games in which Pierce has started and not left due to an injury, but his inability to stay healthy -- particularly this year -- has been devestating to his team’s chances for success.
With Saturday’s loss, head coach Tim Burke is now 3-6 since taking over in late August from Paul LaPolice and his team will now head into 2013 without having won consecutive games since August 2011.
Burke said poor decisions by his quarterbacks, blown assignments, five turnovers and too many penalties -- including two that extended touchdown drives -- all contributed on Saturday to the biggest and most important loss of the season for his club.
"I don’t know if that’s from tension or if it was just one of those days where we just didn’t play well," said Burke. "But we still had a chance to come back the whole game and win it, but we just fell short again."
Saturday’s loss dropped the Bombers regular season record to 5-12 and eliminates them from playoff contention. The Bombers also missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010, with the only exception in the past four years coming last season, when Pierce -- not coincidentally -- started 18 of 20 games and the Bombers won the East Division.
Winnipeg will finish the 2012 season at home next Saturday with what will now be a meaningless contest against the Montreal Alouettes.
Pierce was not the only Bombers player not to finish Saturday’s game. Running backs Chad Simpson (foot) and Will Ford (shoulder) were both also hurt in the first half and did not play in the second half. Burke said he didn’t know the extent of the injuries or if any of the three men would be back next week.
The win for Hamilton snapped a six-game losing streak against the Bombers that extended all the way back to 2010 and kept alive the Ticats playoff hopes at 6-11. The Ticats also got a second-quarter touchdown on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Henry Burris to Andy Fantuz. With two touchdown passes on Saturday, Burris has this season equalled his career-high of 39 TD passes.
The Ticats also got field goals from 36 and 18 yards by Luca Congi.
The Bombers did their scoring on a 5-yard TD run late in the third quarter by backup QB Joey Elliott, who took over from Pierce, and a 41-yard TD pass from Alex Brink, who took over from Elliott, to Terrence Edwards with less than a minute remaining in the game.
Edwards finished the game with 60 yards receiving to go over 1,000 yards for the fifth season.
The Bombers also got a 22-yard Justin Palardy field goal on the second last play of the first half.