O-pportunity to improve

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Sagging in the second half, the Calgary Stampeders offence did their tired defence no favours Saturday night.

With just four days between games and another tough test coming against the Edmonton Eskimos Thursday, they'll need to get back in sync quickly.

Four first downs, 18 rushing yards and 108 more through the air -- 36 of which came on their only scoring play of the second half -- were all quarterback Henry Burris and company could mustre over the final 30 minutes as they battled to protect a 20-point lead that dwindled to eight in a 31-23 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

"It's a situation we learn from. We've got to stay on the field and chew up some more time, give our defence some rest and put some points up on the board," Burris said yesterday.

"Luckily, we were able to have a good enough first half and score that touchdown in the second half. But, definitely, we don't want to put ourselves in a stressful situation like that and make sure we get easier victories."

Practising yesterday for the first time since pulling his hamstring against the Saskatchewan Roughriders 10 days ago, receiver Ryan Thelwell could give his offence a jolt.

With a bye week on the horizon after Thursday's provincial matchup, many thought Thelwell would stay on the sidelines for a second straight game.

Not if he can help it.

"I've been bugging Patty (team trainer Pat Clayton) all week about being able to play this week. He said it all depends on how I do when I'm out here practising," Thelwell said, adding the coaches are all teasing him about going down early in the game against the Riders after putting up 75 yards on three catches.

"It felt good. It felt good just to be back out running with the boys."

Catching a couple of balls while running with the first team offence yesterday, chances are good he'll get back into the starting lineup unless he tweaks the hamstring today.

If Thelwell was a little tentative yesterday, he says it was all mental.

"I think it was more in my head than anything. When it comes to hamstrings, they can feel fine -- you can be walking, jogging and feel fine -- until you're out there competing and really pushing it," he said.

Taking another week off and then enjoying a timely break in the schedule is tempting, but not as tempting as the idea of playing again.

"You just want to be out there. We're a tight group. You want to be out there helping them. One of the toughest things to do, as far as I'm concerned, is to sit and watch on the sidelines," Thelwell said, adding the extra week to heal is something he thinks about.

"I do, and I think the coaches do. I know Patty has mentioned it to me.

"It's just one game, and then we have a whole week off, so we really don't need to push it," he said.

"But at the same time, I'm still gonna have that bye week to help let it heal up."

Heading into the bye with a winning record is something the Stamps want in a bad way. For the offence to do its part in helping the defence -- which will again have its hands full on the ground against the Esks -- they know controlling the clock is critical.

Especially if they get a lead.

But head coach John Hufnagel won't worry too much about a lack of long drives if it means his crew is putting up big points.

"I want to score points," he said with a grin.

"Offensively, their job is to go out and score.

"I'm not gonna tell them score in so many plays."


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