Over the course of the past two months and through seven regular-season games, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans have been hearing the same refrain from the team's coaches and players following every game:
Yes, we did some good things. Yes, we improved in some areas. But no, we still haven't put it altogether.
And that ongoing failure to get the very best out of their offence, defence and special teams in one complete game includes -- by the coaching staff's own admission -- the two games the Bombers did win, last week against Hamilton and July 26 against Edmonton.
Fans have been given a litany of explanations for the incomplete efforts -- most of them centring on the terrible run of injuries that have befallen the Bombers this season -- and all of that has been true, to a greater or lesser degree.
But the time for excuses is now over. With the Bombers now the healthiest they have been all season long -- with the addition of linebacker Brandon Stewart to the lineup this week they will have all 12 of their chosen defensive starters on the field tonight for the first time this season -- there is no reason why the team that takes the field tonight against the B.C. Lions at Canad Inns Stadium cannot put together a complete effort.
Which is not to say, mind you, the Bombers will beat the Lions even if they do that. The Lions, after all, come into Winnipeg with the best record in the CFL at 5-2, by far the best defence in the league and an offence, led by 2011 Most Outstanding Player Travis Lulay, that is third in the league in net offence and first -- by a mile -- in rushing, thanks to Winnipeg's own Andrew Harris.
So against that kind of opponent, there would be no shame for any team in the league -- least of all a Bombers squad with a win-loss record of 2-5 -- in losing to the Lions.
What would not be acceptable would be for the loss to be the result not of sterling play by the Lions but rather -- yet again -- of a middling and incomplete performance by a Winnipeg team that has been so maddeningly inconsistent this season.
The good news for Bombers fans is the team couldn't agree more.
"We're going to come out and make a statement," pledged Winnipeg's Jonathan Hefney, who moves back to his favourite position at half-back now that Stewart is back in the lineup at strong-side linebacker.
"We've got everybody back so now it's just time to play football. We can't say that we don't have players who aren't playing because we have pretty much everyone we want playing this week."
The key to a berth in the Grey Cup game last season was, of course, the dominating play of the Bombers defence and if the team is going to turn around this season, it is going to have to begin once again on the defensive side of the ball.
But this defence is not last year's defence, no matter how many players are now healthy, and it is not going to single-handedly carry the Bombers to victory over the Lions -- or a turnaround this season -- unless the offence and special teams also step up.
Bombers QB Joey Elliott made headlines across the country with his 406-yard performance in his first start last week, but the question is: does he have anything close to an encore in him against the Lions? The tools to make it happen, at least, appear to be there for Elliott. Even with Kito Poblah continuing to underachieve, Elliott has a talented aerial corps with which to work, led by perennial all-star slotback Terrence Edwards and CFL rookie wideout Chris Matthews, who is currently second in the league in receiving yardage.
On top of that, tailback Chad Simpson has given the club a running game they didn't have earlier in the season, while also providing some relief to an offensive line that is improving but still likely the weakest link on this 2012 club.
If the special teams can figure out a way to stop spoiling their own otherwise solid efforts by making what seems to be one major mistake a game -- last week it was a 72-yard punt return for a TD by Hamilton's Chris Willams -- the Bombers could record their third win in four games tonight and be on the cusp of proving what head coach Paul LaPolice and GM Joe Mack have been saying all season long: This is a much better team than their record suggests.
The alternative, of course, will just be a lot more of the same.