CALGARY -- You go into battle with the army you have, not the one you'd like to have.
The reality for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers right now is that they may very well have to be led into the playoff battle this month by backup quarterback Alex Brink rather than their banged-up starter of choice, Buck Pierce.
Moments after a 30-24 loss to the Calgary Stampeders Saturday, Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice was asked if Pierce is ready to go for the playoffs.
LaPolice repeated what both he and Pierce said all last week -- that the status of Pierce's sprained right knee is an ongoing concern and no one's sure, one way or the other, what his immediate future holds.
So with that as a backdrop, it's time to take a hard look at what the Bombers would have with Brink as the starter in the playoffs.
On the plus side, Brink has been effective in his last two outings -- in relief of Pierce in a loss to Toronto on Oct. 28 and then in the starting role against Calgary on Saturday. Making just his third professional start Saturday, Brink completed 22 of 33 attempts for 202 yards and a touchdown, but also coughed up the fumble that led to Calgary's first touchdown of the game.
Put that outing together with his numbers against Toronto and Brink has now completed 38 of his last 60 passes for 421 yards, two TDs and no interceptions.
That's hardly spectacular, but it's not bad and it's actually better than what Pierce had been doing for the Bombers. In an obviously much more limited capacity, Brink had a slightly better passer rating than Pierce coming into yesterday -- 83.1 to 82.1 -- and that small advantage is unlikely to change after Saturday's outing.
That's the good news. The bad news is simpler, but more stark -- Brink has started just three games in his entire professional career. And he's 0-2 in his two starts for the Bombers this year.
Still, his teammates say Brink has won them over in the past two weeks with his leadership in what have been adverse circumstances, marshalling comebacks from big deficits in both games that fell short in each instance, but showed composure beyond his years.
"The thing about Alex," offered Bombers defensive back Jovon Johnson, "is that he has showed resilience and he's shown some star power. If he keeps playing the way he has, he will be a starting quarterback in this league."
"He's a great quarterback, in my eyes," ventured running back Chris Garrett. "I've got full faith in him and our team has full faith in him. He knows this offence in and out."
Brink was asked after Saturday's game if he felt he had proven something -- to his teammates and to Bombers fans -- with his play since Pierce went down in the first half against Toronto.
"I hope so, but that's an outside perception thing that I'm not worried about," Brink said. "I know my teammates trust me, I know my coaches trust me, and I feel like that's really what's important to me."
It bears remembering that while Brink is still extremely green in the professional game and has never even dressed for a playoff game in the pros, much less started, he has been tested at the highest levels of the college game.
He is the all-time leading passer in the history of the Washington State Cougars, where he threw for 10,913 yards and 76 touchdowns. He still holds the college record with 531 yards passing in a game against Oregon State in 2005.
To be sure, Brink has neither the breadth of knowledge nor big-game CFL experience that Pierce has. But if it becomes necessary this month, he has also proven in the past couple weeks that he can, if nothing else, give the Bombers at least a chance to win.