DID the Winnipeg Blue Bombers throw in the towel when things went bad?
That's the lingering, non-Joe Mack related question surrounding the team after failing to show up in Regina Sunday afternoon. The 52-0 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Labour Day Catastrophe was one of the worst losses suffered by the Bombers in team history and given the circumstances leading up to the game -- the must-win urgency, the new head coach, the ferocious Prairie rivalry -- it was another subterranean low point for a franchise already up to its waist in magma.
"You could just feel it (slipping away)," Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson said afterwards, looking worn out from having to account for what went wrong again. "Guys can't get down on each other, regardless if the score is 42-0 or 7-0. We can't just go out there and continue to let them do what they want to do.
"You gotta have some pride. You gotta build some pride and defend yourself."
Questioning the effort of professional football players is a tricky proposition for those on the outside looking in, as the criticism is typically met with the always-popular "you haven't played, so what do you know?" type of response from the subject. When those queries come from inside the circle, though, the topic starts to grow some legs.
Not that it takes an experienced football man to deduce what was going on in Regina. Already down 17-0 in the second quarter, most of the air left the Bombers balloon when an unmarked Tyron Brackenridge blocked a Mike Renaud punt and ran it into the end zone. The special teams score made it 24-zip for the home side, the party at Mosaic Stadium was green-lighted, and if Winnipeg wasn't ready to play at the start of the game (they weren't), they were definitely ready for it to end.
Sunday's massacre was reminiscent of the pounding the Bombers took in Edmonton earlier this year. In that bloodbath, the defining, deflating moment occurred when Alex Brink threw a pick-six to Eskimos linebacker T.J. Hill minutes into the second quarter, making it 24-0 and opening the floodgates to a 42-10 Edmonton win.
Mental toughness -- do the Bombers have enough of it?
"We just have to show maturity as a team, and I'm not sure some of us have that," linebacker Marcellus Bowman said. "You have to be mature enough and professional enough to be able to bounce back. And not just bounce back and be competitive -- bounce back and win.
"I mean, it's 52-0, that basically speaks for itself."
Mack addressed his team after the trashing and according to some, the GM told the room he wasn't interested in making major changes. Even though the 2-7 Bombers didn't respond to the head coaching switch -- an attention-grabber everyone anticipated given the harder-edge to Tim Burke -- Mack said the current players on the team are the players he's sticking with for the second half of the season.
Judging from what you watched Sunday, is that the right decision?
Mental toughness doubt bleeds into questions of effort when one considers the fourth quarter. On two separate occasions -- back-to-back kickoffs by Saskatchewan -- the disengaged Bombers allowed the Riders to bully their way down the field and grab the live pigskin. It was like no one was interested in playing anymore.
Veteran long-snapper Chris Cvetkovic took issue with the suggestion the Bombers rolled over.
"Effort has never been an issue for our team," he said. "We've never given up. The score might not reflect that but I can look every guy in the eye on this team, and they can look me in the eye, and I know nobody gives up on this team. This was a collective effort of us just falling apart (Sunday)."
That might be, but even the Blue and Gold faithful were looking for the white flag Sunday. Social media, message boards and even the suddenly sober Bombers fans at the game wondered about the "care factor" put forth by the club.
Offensive lineman Glenn January was perturbed by the suggestion of indifference, but understood the public's optical disillusion: "Fans pay our salaries, so they're very free to have an opinion. If I was a fan, I'd probably be very critical of our performance, as well."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @wazoowazny