Oh, here we go again

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

Tom Higgins called it "a step backwards."

Worse than that, the Calgary Stampeders' 33-18 loss Saturday in Ottawa leaves them staggering precariously on a cliff, with another step in the wrong direction producing a perilous plunge.

While it might have been too much to expect the refurbished club to look like a contender this early in the CFL season, week-by-week progress was expected.

Hell, the head coach and his staff have demanded at least that much. The new ownership group that paid so handsomely for talent upgrades also must certainly have anticipated seeing the on-field product flourishing by now.

We have seen promising signs through three games but you have to squint awfully hard to find them.

Games 2 and 3 on the Stampeders' docket were expected to be a soft spot in the team's early schedule, a chance to find their legs and pick up a quick four points while getting on a roll before heading into the toughest stretch in the first half of the year.

While the team snuck out of Winnipeg two weeks ago with an ugly win, the 33-18 flop in Ottawa provided a ghastly jolt, as the Stampeders head coach acknowledged.

Quarterback Henry Burris -- always quick with a cheerful comment for the poised notebooks and cameras -- called it a shocking loss and was almost speechless moments after the game, unable to explain his disappointment.

First it was the new-look offence that failed to live up to expectations.

Now, the team is taking turns finding other ways to look incompetent.

In Ottawa, the usually steady and reliable defence provided the team's downfall, allowing Kerry Joseph, Josh Ranek and Yo Murphy to trample them into the ground.

Now, five of Calgary's next six games are against true Grey Cup contenders -- Saskatchewan, B.C. (twice), Montreal and Toronto -- with only a return engagement against Winnipeg Aug. 6 as a chance to catch their breath.

Although it's way too early to begin pondering post-season possibilities, magnifying the misery of the loss to the Renegades is how it could affect a potential crossover playoff berth come autumn.

The theory went if the Stampeders' high hopes of hosting a playoff game or even finishing third in the West faded, they could easily wind up fourth, earning a cross-over into the East. After all, the pundits pointed out, Hamilton and Ottawa looked incapable of laying claim to the third spot in their own division. While the winless Tiger-Cats have played down to those lowly predictions, the Renegades have certainly squashed that notion.

Their surprise overtime win against Montreal, coupled with the hammering of the Stampeders, means there might not be that easy consolation prize waiting for Calgary in the fall.

If the Stampeders can't claim one of three post-season berths in the West -- which now looks like a distinct possibility without a sudden turnaround -- the back door to the East might also be closed.

Saturday's game against the Roughriders (which Burris no doubt circled on his schedule the day he signed in Calgary) is a chance for redemption and a crucial two points.

Had Burris been able to write the script, his rebuilt Stampeders would be preparing to shift the offence into high gear this week, just in time to run over his old teammates from Regina.

Now they find themselves crammed beneath the wheel.

A saving grace? There's plenty of football left to be played. In fact, we're really just getting started.

It's far too early to write off the season because, as we all know, in the CFL anything can happen and often does.

But if the Stampeders don't start taking steps forward, they'll soon step backwards off a cliff.

The coaching staff and players understand that better than anyone.


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