GUELPH, ONT. — This is what free fall looks like. And that should be the scariest part of all for Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans right now.
Because it would be one thing if we could say with confidence the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hit rock bottom at Alumni Field with their sixth consecutive loss — a 37-14 defeat to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats so ugly that it can only be described as an embarrassment to the franchise.
But that’s the thing — it is far from clear that this latest Bombers fouling, as gutless as it was, is the bottom every lost cause needs to find before the road to recovery can begin.
And that’s because the manner of this loss seemed different than the others — resembling more of a capitulation than a defeat and coming in an effort that was so utterly devoid of fight (at least until the game was out of reach) that even other CFL players weren’t afraid to call the Bombers on their emotional bankruptcy.
"I wonder," injured Calgary Stampeders slotback Nik Lewis ventured on his Twitter account during the second quarter, "if anyone on Winnipeg cares about anything more than a paycheque."
Yes, that’s cheap coming from a guy who is out for the year with an ankle injury and won’t have to hear the answer from the Bombers players on the field when Winnipeg and Calgary meet again in October.
But the question itself — Is this a team that is now simply going through the motions? — is entirely legitimate after a game that saw the Bombers defence play turnstiles and spot the Ticats a 24-0 second-quarter lead and the Bombers offence fail to register so much as a single first down until less than four minutes remained in the first half.
At one point in the second quarter, the Bombers had given up 254 yards of offence to the Ticats while registering just 48 yards of their own.
And it was the complete surrender which those numbers represent which was the narrative of this game, not the half-hearted comeback attempt the Bombers put together in the second half when the game was out of reach and the Ticats had all but called it a day.
And so full marks then to Bombers running back Chad Simpson for refusing to put lipstick on this pig.
"You ask me — it’s a heart thing. You’ve got to want it," Simpson said in a sombre Bombers locker-room. "You can draw up all the plays you want in the dirt, you know what I mean? But when adversity strikes, you’ve got to step up as a man. And I feel we’re not doing that.
"Whether it’s for one reason or another, I don’t know. That’s for our leadership to decide."
It sounds like they’ve already decided. Bombers head coach Tim Burke said after the game that the club will be bringing in at least four new players in the coming days, including a veteran CFL quarterback.
Burke did not say who the new quarterback will be, but sources said Saturday night it’s 2011 Ticats third-stringer Jason Boltus, who has most recently been in the Arena League and is unlikely to be the game-changer the Bombers need right now. Boltus was 5-15 for 48 yards for the Ticats in 2011.
"We’ve got some guys coming in," said Burke, "and we’ll see if they’re better than what we have and if they are, we’ll make some changes."
If that’s the standard, it’s a low bar. With a 1-7 record, the Bombers are off to their worst start since 1998, when they opened 0-10 en route to a 3-15 season.
And in yet another chapter of "The more things change for the Bombers, the more they stay the same," the team also now finds itself once again mired in quarterback injuries.
Bombers starter Max Hall lasted just two plays on Saturday before he hurt his hand. Burke said he has no idea how serious the injury is, but Hall never did return to play.
And the man who replaced Hall, Buck Pierce, also had to leave the game with an injury. Burke said he didn’t know what was wrong with Pierce, other than he had an upper body injury.
That left third-stringer — and former first-stringer — Justin Goltz to mop up in the fourth quarter on Saturday. Goltz fared little better than the first two Bombers QBs and squandered a chance to possibly get his team back into the game when he threw an interception with his team down 27-14 and threatening to get back to within one score.
With fresh bodies on the way to Winnipeg and a looming date next weekend in Regina with the high-flying Roughriders, whatever delusions the Bombers players were maintaining this week about the seriousness of their current predicament had been replaced Saturday afternoon with some stark realizations.
"Right now, we can’t even see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Bombers defensive lineman Bryant Turner.
"We’re basically going on faith right now and we’ll just see where it takes us... I don’t even know what to expect anymore. So many different things have happened with this team, I’ll be just as surprised as you all are."
If the Bombers still need to find their bottom, it might as well come next week in the Labour Day Weekend Classic — a game the Bombers lost 52-0 to Saskatchewan last season.
They say that when skydivers fail to open their parachutes, they actually bounce — not splatter — when they hit the ground. The final result is the same, of course, but at least it’s less gruesome that way.
Such is the sorry state of the current Bombers season that the only real question remaining is whether this team’s free fall bounces or splatters when it finally hits bottom.