Back in his familiar role as the starting quarterback, Buck Pierce set the tone with a promise of effort: It won't be lacking in Friday's game against Hamilton.
The 30-year-old was forced to observe the last eight games from the outside, thanks to a tricky left-foot tendon injury and during that time, he's come to the same conclusion as the Winnipeg Blue Bomber faithful.
Lately, as he admitted Monday, the losses have been tough to take.
"Sometimes, when things are going bad, it's easy to let other influences affect your play," said Pierce, when asked to give his account of the 44-3 embarrassment in Calgary last Friday. "That's not going to happen this week. We're going to go out, we're going to play hard, and you're going to see our guys dead tired (at the end)."
More than he ever has in his two-plus seasons in Winnipeg, Pierce sounded like a determined leader Monday. Frankly, he looked bothered by what was going on with his team. Whether this stems from having to watch the Bombers stumble or the stress of the uncertain quarterback situation he's currently involved in, he expressed total confidence in his abilities and his teammates' -- even as some of the them are coming under fire for their commitment to the rest of the year.
"Everybody has to look at themselves -- what do they want to do? Continue to put that kind of stuff on film, because that's their character," Pierce said. "I worry about myself and if I see something going on that I don't think should be going on, then I'll address that.
"And I got no problem doing that. I know what it takes to win in this league."
Put the CN Tower on top of the Empire State Building, take them to the summit of Mount Everest, and there stands the task in front of Pierce as he attempts to climb the Bombers back to respectability. A sampling of what needs to be straightened out:
-- Winnipeg's offence hasn't scored a touchdown in over three games (13 quarters), hasn't thrown for a major in a month (Hamilton, Aug. 16). The offence has generated a measly 20 points in three games.
-- Over that same span, Bomber quarterbacks have thrown for only 307 yards. That's an average passing output per game for Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto this season.
-- The recent malaise has moved the Bombers' total offence (306 yards) behind the Edmonton Eskimos (327) in terms of average per contest. It's official, folks: Winnipeg's attack is now the worst in the league.
How much of this is on the Bombers' young quarterbacks (Alex Brink, Joey Elliott, Justin Goltz) and how much of it is on rookie CFL offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton and his play calling? With the return of Pierce, we should have a better idea of where most of the blame should fall.
Both Pierce and Crowton indicated not much will change regarding the offensive system against the Tiger-Cats. Both called for better execution to correct the problems of the last three games, with Pierce, 24-of-40 for 327 yards and just one TD in three appearances this year, believing Crowton's offence can work in the CFL.
But it all starts with Pierce, who needs to be on top of his game to turn Winnipeg's fortunes around.
"I'm hoping (his return) instills some confidence in the rest of the team, that 'Hey, we've got our starting quarterback in there and he's going to lead us to victory,'" head coach Tim Burke said.
But how long will Pierce be under centre? That's not meant as health concern but rather a question of practicality for the franchise moving forward. At 2-9 and with just a thread of playoff hope, the Bombers might be inclined to take a longer look at their young QBs once things officially get out of reach. The counter argument is that the Bombers still need to sell tickets and make some dough; wins with a veteran pivot can help in that regard.
Of course, bigger issues build out of this: What if Pierce lights it up? Given that he's only made 24 starts in 47 games, can the Bombers really open the 2013 season counting on him as the No. 1 guy?
Pierce is determined, but his future status is yet to be.
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burke shows TSN video, reads riot act / C4