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 Saturday afternoon in the regular-season farewell for Ivor Wynne Stadium.
The loss also means the Bombers have extended their franchise record for Grey Cup futility with a drought that has now lasted 22 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, the final score flattered Winnipeg. 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 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 deep in Winnipeg's end and rumbled into the end zone.
Pierce returned for one series after the fumble, but then left the game with what appeared to be an injury to his right shoulder. He 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 included his first start in Week 1 in B.C. The Bombers lost all four of those games and are now 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 management to find a replacement 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 devastating 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 he felt like his defence "played well enough to win" -- they held Hamilton to just 238 yards net offence -- but he cited poor decisions by his quarterbacks, blown assignments, five turnovers and too many penalties -- including two that extended Hamilton touchdown drives -- as contributing factors to the most monumental 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."
The Bombers (5-12) 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 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 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 would be back next week.
The win for Hamilton snapped a six-game losing streak against the Bombers that extended back to 2010 and kept alive the Ticats' playoff hopes at 6-11. The Ticats also got a second-quarter touchdown on an eight-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 five-yard TD run late in the third quarter by backup QB Joey Elliott, and a 41-yard TD pass from Alex Brink to Terrence Edwards with less than a minute left in the game.