THERE was no smattering of fans to greet the Blue Bombers at the Winnipeg airport on Sunday morning, and the usual throng of media was absent too, and so as athletes and coaches grabbed their bags and scattered into the city, the silence of Saturday's 25-7 loss against the Edmonton Eskimos hung heavy.
(One die-hard fan chimed in on Twitter that at the least, she showed up.)
Really, though, what is left to say at this point, more than halfway through this miserable season, with the Bombers sitting at 2-9 and little hope on the horizon? Every week, the same story unfolds: upbeat practices, promises of more focus, announcements that they're tuning up the hurting things. And yet, every week but two has ended more or less the same way: little fight, few highlights, not a lot of game.
"Disappointing, disappointing all the way around," quarterback Justin Goltz said, and whatever emotions burned beneath his carefully composed on-camera face is anyone's guess: on Saturday, he was yanked from the starter spot after completing five of 10 attempts for just 54 yards, no touchdowns and a pick, and this was against the Bombers' fellow CFL basement-dwelling team.
Max Hall came in after the half and did a little better, connecting on 15 of his 22 pass attempts for 160 yards and another interception. "Two (passes) in a row!" the Bombers' official Twitter account exclaimed after Hall threaded one to Terrence Edwards, and the fact that this was worth commenting on sort of says it all. Still, if the hurting emanates from behind centre, players agree there's no single prescription to heal this ailing team.
"There's going to have to be changes," Goltz said. "Changes in the way guys go about their job on a day-to-day basis. I don't know what exactly those changes have to be, but it has to translate on game day. Unless it does, it doesn't really matter... If I could put my finger on it, we'd probably have fixed it by now."
It can't all be darkness though, there's always a bright spot, even in a game where only kicker Sandro DeAngelis could break the plane: two field goals and a missed 55-yard attempt for a rouge accounted for the Bombers' seven points. On Saturday night, that hopeful note was struck by receiver Aaron Kelly, who arrived in Winnpeg last month after his former Hamilton Tiger-Cats coach Marcel Bellefeuille became the Bombers' new offensive co-ordinator.
The reedy 6-5 receiver made three catches on Saturday for 48 yards, including a 26-yard second-quarter grab where he managed to haul down a funky pass from Goltz that might have been bound for another interception.
"I'm just happy to get the ball my way," Kelly said at the airport of that play. "If you make plays like that, it gives the quarterback confidence in you, just throw it up no matter what it looks like on the defensive end."
So what now? What now, for a team that has shuffled some personnel, swapped OCs, still has no clear starter at quarterback and can't find any way but the occasional guts-out defence to win a game? Get a clean-up crew, apparently.
"It's just the little mistakes we have," Kelly said. "We have success, then we'll have a penalty. Or we won't run something right. It's just little things we can control."