You knew it was going to be a long, hard night for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers when their punter, of all people, got hurt. In the pre-game warm-up.
In a charmed season which, until Thursday night, had seen just about everything break Winnipeg's way in compiling a 3-0 start to their season, it was opposite night at Investors Group Field as the Bombers fumbled and bumbled their way to their first loss of the 2014 CFL season, 26-3 to the Edmonton Eskimos.
What was billed coming in as a first-place battle between two West Division heavyweights proved to be a walkover instead for an Edmonton squad who left no doubt as to who is the better team right now, improving to 4-0 while the Bombers fell to 3-1.
And it wasn't even so much Edmonton was that good; it was just Winnipeg was that bad.
The Bombers' tackling was atrocious. And so was their clock management to end the first half.
Then there was a Winnipeg offence that didn't record a first down until just 2:37 remained in the first half.
The Winnipeg special teams were -- once again -- a series of misadventures.
The dumb penalties -- which Winnipeg got away with during the first three weeks of the season -- proved costly on this night. And so too did the two Winnipeg turnovers.
Heck, the Bombers even had a 44-yard field goal attempt at the end of the third quarter clang off the right upright.
Put it together and you had a Bombers team on the field at IGF that looked a lot more like the jokers that put up a league-worst 3-15 record last year than the early-season juggernaut that until Thursday had proven unbeatable.
Dude, where's the offence?
A Bombers' offence which led the CFL in scoring coming in, with an eye-popping average of 38.3 points per game, struggled mightily to get anything going on the ground or through the air against an Edmonton defence that was the stingiest in the league coming into the game -- and leaving it
Bombers starting QB Drew Willy had just four yards passing in the first quarter and just 94 yards in the first half -- more than half of that coming on one 50-yard completion to Clarence Denmark near the end of the half. That play resulted in the lone Bombers' scoring of the game, a 22-yard field goal by place-kicker Lirim Hajrullahu -- who did double duty as Winnipeg's punter after Mike Renaud pulled a hamstring in the warmup.
By night's end, Willy was just 13-26 for 169 yards and one interception and the Bombers registered just 198 yards of total offence against 352 total yards for Edmonton.
A silver lining?
While both the Winnipeg offence and special teams struggled, the Bombers defence was at least serviceable -- but only if you could overlook what at one point in the first half seemed to be multiple missed tackles on virtually every play.
While there's never a good excuse for sloppy tackling, the Winnipeg defence had at least a good explanation on a night that saw them on the field for over 20 of the game's first 30 minutes. The final time of possession wasn't even close -- 38:26 for Edmonton, 21:34 for Winnipeg.
Still, the Bombers got good pressure on Edmonton QB Mike Reilly for most of the night, recording four sacks -- two by Zach Anderson. Plus, they forced a turnover and at least kept Winnipeg in the game until the levee broke in the fourth quarter.
It wasn't much, but it was as good as it got for the Bombers on this night.
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