Hey Chicken Littles ...

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Up until Labour Day, the Calgary Stampeders had lost three games by a total of eight points.

They were cruising along, having won in two tough buildings (Regina and Vancouver) and were ranked first in several statistical categories.

The offence looked as good as any in the CFL and the defence was starting to put together a solid pass rush along with its great run-stopping ability.

So why is a 37-16 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos causing so much angst? It is, in fact, just 1/18th of the season, a measly 5.6%.

And this is only the halfway point of a long campaign.

It has long been thought that whoever is in control at Labour Day usually sets themselves up for a strong second half and playoff run.

When queried about giving his team a grade at the midway point of the season, Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel admits it's not a passing one.

"If you asked that question two days before, I may have had a different answer," Hufnagel said. "Unfortunately, we took a step back. I'm not happy about where we are because we took a step backwards.

"You always try to improve each and every week and, for the most part, we've done that. We didn't do it in this game, therefore, we have to make up some ground."

The Stampeders are one game out of second and two from the first-place Saskatchewan Roughriders, so all is not lost.

And it's easy to pinpoint where they Stamps went wrong against the Eskimos and what they need to do Friday night in the rematch at Commonwealth Stadium.

Hufnagel said yesterday quarterback Henry Burris should be able to return from his toe injury, so that is good news for the Stamps offence.

On Monday, there were three main reasons the Stamps lost:

* They fumbled twice on special teams, with Nate Curry's gaffe on a punt return being the most devastating because it turned into a quick seven points the other way.

* They mounted very little pass rush against Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray, which meant he had time to pick apart the secondary.

* They lost the time of possession battle by getting off the field too quick with only one first down in three possessions at the end of the third quarter and into the final frame.

So, maybe, it just wasn't the Stamps' day, and the only reason it has become a source of trouble for fans is it happened in front of a full house at McMahon.

"We played a sloppy football game and there are no excuses for it," Hufnagel said. "Our tackling, our execution in the green zone and our blocking assignments ...

"It wasn't a good outing and it hasn't occurred with this team for a complete game, not that the whole game was a whole mess, but at key times we seemed to mess it up."

A big difference was the Eskimos didn't settle for field goals while the Stamps stalled in the scoring zone too often.

The Eskimos dominated the line of scrimmage, getting three sacks and being more physical.

That can change in one game, so the real test will come Friday. Two straight outings would be more of a trend.

"I will discover more about my team and how they respond to this type of defeat," Hufnagel said. "If that's what you want to call mettle, then I would agree with that.

"They will have the understanding by the time we play what my thoughts are about how they played and how the game went and what we need to do better.

"It's something you learn from and something you have to experience to learn.

"Hopefully we have learned a good lesson."


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