OTTAWA — The game was Jennifer Jones versus Chelsea Carey.
The subplot was Jones versus an old teammate and Manitoba rival, Carey third Cathy Overton-Clapham.
In the end, this one came down to a battle of Jones vs. Jones.
And Jones lost.
A skip who had — quite literally — been unbeatable for almost two months, rattling off 19 straight victories along the way, came unglued here Wednesday afternoon in the most spectacular and public way imaginable at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Olympic curling trials.
You know that bad dream where you find yourself speaking in public and suddenly realize you’re not wearing any clothes? Well, when a curling skip has that dream they’re playing on national television in an NHL arena and they suddenly lose their draw weight.
So it went for Jones. In a game that was a battle for first place between the last two undefeated teams in the field, the best part of Jones’ game for years — her draw weight — simply and inexplicably deserted her in a 7-5 loss to Carey in which the score flattered the Jones foursome. A lot.
So what does it look like when the winningest skip in the history of Canadian women’s curling suddenly cannot draw? In a word — ugly.
You knew something wasn’t right when Jones came up way light on a draw attempt with her first rock of the fourth end. She dodged a bullet that time, making a takeout with her last rock to earn a blank.
But there would be no second chances for Jones in the fifth end. Drawing with the hammer against three Carey counters, Jones needed the four-foot. She barely made the rings and gave up a steal of three to head into the fifth-end break down 5-2.
This is the Houdini-esque Jones we’re talking about, so 5-2 didn’t seem insurmountable.
Or at least it didn’t until Jones did the same thing the next end, coming up light yet again on another last-rock draw and this time handing Carey a steal of two.
You know the last time Jones gave up five points worth of steals in back to back ends? Me neither. Let me know if you figure it out.
It is a rare game in which Jones is not the best player on the ice. We are in unicorn territory when she’s the worst player on the ice — as she was against Carey.
Jones threw just 50 per cent on 10 draws through the first seven ends and while this one went into the books as a Carey victory, it was also at least as much a Jones loss.
That’s not to take anything away from Carey, who was playing with a heavy heart on Wednesday — the funeral for her grandfather took place on the same afternoon she was beating up on Jones.
That’s a lot to contend with on one afternoon and it’s a testimony to Carey’s mental toughness that in a game in which more experienced curlers than her were throwing lousy percentages — Jones finished at 63 per cent, while Overton-Clapham curled 50 per cent through the first five ends — Carey kept her head about her and finished at a workmanlike 74 per cent.
That was more than good enough on a day Jones came unravelled.
The big question by day’s end is whether whatever happened to Jones has done lasting damage to her confidence.
She scoffed at the notion.
"We just got caught. It’s going to happen and I’d rather it happen now than later on," Jones said after the game. "It’s just a matter of whether we can rebound from it and I think we’re made of something a little more than just crumbling after one loss.
"I expect to come out and play well."
If she does, it would be for the first time in three games.
Because while Jones was attributing Wednesday’s debacle to one rogue game, the fact is it’s been a couple days since Jones has played well.
Wednesday’s 63 per cent performance was the second game in a row that Jones has thrown that low number; Jones threw just 63 per cent one day earlier against Casey Scheidegger.
But that poor performance got papered over because Jones ended up winning that game, authoring an unlikely 8-7 extra-end victory over Scheidegger when she stole the last two ends.
It’s worth noting Jones isn’t the only defending Olympic gold-medal skip in the field struggling right now. The other, Brad Jacobs, coughed up a 59 per cent effort Wednesday afternoon in a 9-3 loss to Brendan Bottcher and is now clinging to life at 2-3.
Jacobs didn’t even try to explain it. "I got nothing, guys," he deadpanned.
So yeah, these things happen to the very best of them. One inexplicably bad performance is noteworthy, nothing more.
But two bad performances in a row? That’s the start of a disturbing pattern.
With playoffs looming this weekend and a berth in the Olympics hanging in the balance, Jones doesn’t have much time to reverse that pattern if she’s going to defend her Trials title — and her gold medal at the Winter Olympics in a couple of months.