There was always hope for salvaging the season, always numerous rallying points -- until now.
Coming off an appearance in the 2011 Grey Cup, the mindset for this year had to be one of redemption and vengeance. Could this team improve by the same margin it had from 2010 to 2011 and become a consistent playoff contender?
The first four games were needlessly played on the road -- a hard start to the schedule for any team, especially one expecting to play in a new stadium -- but once that was overcome, it was thought things would improve.
There were pivotal injuries in the early going that were a reasonable explanation for a sputtering start. The prevailing notion was that the team would be different once everyone was healthy and lined up where they were supposed to be. It was easy to buy into this idea as well.
Before that could happen, though, there was an injury to starting quarterback Buck Pierce, and Alex Brink required time and repetitions with the starting offence to gain experience and be productive.
Then came a win and a 400-yard game by a different quarterback (Joey Elliott) that was sure to turn the tide.
When that didn't fall into place, it was decided there needed to be a head-coaching change -- the fortunes of the team were sure to turn with a new coach that had been primed and poised for the top job for some time.
Without any dividends reaped from this maneuver, however, desperate logic dictated they needed to play at home to get their bearings right again, because they were a vastly superior team at home.
The biggest rallying point of all, the starting quarterback, who had once again become everyone's favourite player, returned to the controls and beat the same team that Elliott had blossomed against. All the injured players were healthy and the new head coach was leading them with games under his belt. Now was the time they would win back-to-back games.
Yet the house of cards collapsed. The saviour got injured again and they didn't perform as expected at home.
Where do they go from here?
The playoffs are almost an impossibility now at 3-10, and the next game is on the road in Montreal.
There will be talk of playing for pride and jobs, and approaching the remaining games like a professional, and they all have merit. After all, a professional prepares for a game the same way whether he is 10-3 or 3-10. Yet a team this young needs more in front of it, a reason to believe, a reason for being.
There really is only one thing left for this franchise to do in 2012, a team that has officially run out of straws to grasp at. Time to break out the "Us Against the World" mentality, and at this point it won't be a hard sell.
This team needs an action plan to draw up their ire like no other. For they haven't just lost games on the road this season, they have been abused. Not only does my intuition tell me Pierce will not be playing, but the Montreal Alouettes just got pummeled on the road in Hamilton, and that is a team that always responds to a beatdown by returning the favour.
Montreal has everything to play for and is fighting to secure a one-win ticket to the 100th Grey Cup. Their next opponent better have greater aspirations than just resume building and professionalism if it's going to be a competitive outing.
It has been well documented that evaluating Tim Burke's potential as a head coaching candidate at the end of someone else's mess is not fair. These are not his players, they are not his coaches, and therefore this is not his team. So it says here that if Burke can process a win in Montreal, create something out of nothing, on that accomplishment alone he deserves a chance to build his own sand box.
If somehow Burke is able to resuscitate this roster and win in Quebec, he will do it by pointing out the obvious: How will you fight when no one thinks you have any fight left in you?
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.