This football game was never going to be a contest about whether the Blue and Gold could go into Edmonton and keep their playoff hopes alive against the mighty Eskimos. To many of us, it was only a test of whether the Bombers could pick themselves up off the floor and present a spirited front after having it handed to them by the league's worst team last week.
Every squad worth its salt likes to be told they can't do something and can't beat someone. Being told your opponent totally outclasses you and is out of your league is often all it takes to spur a superhuman effort from even the most lacklustre of teams. Yet having this gauntlet thrown down in front of them in Alberta, and coming face to face with a history of failure at Commonwealth Stadium, wouldn't have been what plagued the minds of these players going into this game.
All last week, this team had to come to terms with something much more difficult than winning in Edmonton: That they provided only the second win of the season to the expansion franchise Ottawa Redblacks, and it wasn't a win gifted by a calamity of errors or miscues. An Ottawa offence, that was and still is the most futile in the league, put up huge numbers and pushed Winnipeg's defence around. The Redblack defence, that had followed suit in the nation's capital this year, giving up the second-most points so far, had their way with Drew Willy and company, and turned their usual sub-par performances into something sublime. When the undisputed worst team treats you as their doormat, how does one recover?
So the question last week in practice that needed to be answered by the Bombers Monday was really one of fight or flight. Would this team have the fortitude and resolve to brush the dirt off their shoulders after being taken to task by the smallest kid in the schoolyard, and continue to believe in themselves and square up with their next opponent? Or would they crumble and wither throughout the remainder of the season, being wholly convinced the first third of a season was an aberration, and that whatever "mojo" they once owned, had long since departed and left them exposed?
To a large extent, it didn't matter who won the game against Edmonton. Playoff opportunity or not, the attitude and approach the players brought to the field — forged and instilled by their coaching staff — would be the most telling statistic of this game, and unfortunately it was. The second snap of the game produced a sack of Drew Willy after Almondo Sewell split a double team. They were minus-one yards of total offence in the first quarter, had only two first downs at the end of the first half, and the Eskimos led by a score of 37-0. The Bombers may have statistically still been in the playoff hunt after the loss to the Redblacks, but it was obvious any confidence they had remaining going into this game was all but obliterated from that defeat.
Few and far between are the seasons that start with so much promise, but end with so much disappointment. It is fair to say that to the same extent we were pleasantly surprised by the beginnings of the team this year, we were equally shocked by the severity of the decline. Even the personnel moves by this team prior to this contest, had fumes of panic and desperation. It wouldn't have mattered if they had benched Nic Grigsby in favour of Charles Roberts in his prime, since the tailback was never the overriding problem with the run game. And while Romby Bryant does add the dimension of speed to the offence, Aaron Kelly is a young cog for the future of this team, and if your QB doesn't have the time to take a seven-step drop and deliver a deep ball, it defeats the purpose of a vertical threat.
The Bombers may have some pieces in place to lead them into a prosperous future in 2015 and beyond, but the amount of work that still needs to be done is no longer being glossed over by a team playing above themselves. Monday, the Bombers played like a team that had gotten blown out by a 2-12 expansion squad. We can only hope they don't close out the season, and the remaining three games, with the same resolve.
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.
Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.