They didn't come right out and say it, but the future starts now for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
How else does one try to explain the news out of Monday's post-mortem from head coach Tim Burke that Buck Pierce, Winnipeg's No. 1 quarterback on paper, is healthy enough to play, but won't play this week?
Pierce has missed the last seven games with an injured tendon in his left foot (he was hurt July 13). Now in his eighth CFL season, he gives the club the best chance of winning, considering his two-plus years in Winnipeg, but won't even dress when the team heads to Calgary for a Friday night affair.
"As far as health goes, he could play," said Burke, announcing Joey Elliott would get another start against the Stamps. "We just feel like it's not enough time to get ready."
Pierce practised last week and will be more involved in the workouts this week, Burke said.
"We want to have the best people out there, but it's just not fair to Buck to put him in that situation with one day of preparation to try to go out there and get us a 'W,' " the coach added. "The best thing for him and the team is one more week."
Last we checked, the Bombers (2-8) needed wins yesterday. Still trailing the lowly Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a game and now six points back of those in the West Division eyeing a crossover playoff spot (Edmonton and Saskatchewan), Winnipeg is running out of games to get into the post-season picture.
The odds are long, sure, but this is the CFL. Make the playoffs, and who knows what could happen.
Given the victory urgency in Bomberland, Burke's rationale doesn't hold water. We're not talking about some no-name rookie QB who's just been air-lifted into Winnipeg and needs to sleep with the playbook to get up to speed in a couple of days. Pierce knows which way is up, he's well-versed in offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton's playbook and has seen enough enemy defences in his time to handle himself accordingly.
It's hard to imagine Pierce not running into traffic on St. James to prove to the coaching staff he's strong and fast enough to play, but yet he's told to take a seat for another week.
The numbers also fly in the face of sitting a healthy Pierce: Since taking over in 2010, Pierce is 11-13 (.458) as the starter. Nothing to write home about, sure, but compare that winning percentage to when Pierce isn't starting under centre: Winnipeg is 5-17 (.227).
And there's the Pierce riddle confounding the Bombers over the last two-plus seasons. The odds for success go up when he plays; he just doesn't play enough to provide the needed stability at the spot.
The Bombers are in a pickle. The argument for Pierce playing and being the brightest light for the playoffs is equaled by the need for the club to see what they have in Elliott. Winnipeg needs to plan for the future so they're biting the bullet and taking their lumps with an inexperienced guy.
In four starts, Elliott is completing 59 per cent of his throws and hasn't thrown a TD pass in more than three games (192:42 of action). On top of that, the Winnipeg offence hasn't scored a TD since the 10:45 mark of the third quarter in the B.C. game -- a span of nine-plus quarters.
How much of that is Elliott? How much of that is Crowton's play-calling?
How much of that is the Bombers quarterback curse, if such a hex exists?
No doubt Pierce will get the next start versus Hamilton (Sept. 21) and maybe a few after that -- just to satisfy fans who clamour to remember what happiness feels like -- but Monday's announcement reveals the intention of the club moving forward. Starving for wins, Winnipeg is in danger of missing the playoffs for the third time in four years and has chosen to not play its best option at the most important position on the field.
By sitting a healthy Pierce, the Bombers look to be in the market for a starting quarterback again. They just haven't officially posted the position yet.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @wazoowazny