WINNIPEG - When the Ticats look back at their season, which ended here on the frozen turf at Canad Inns Stadium, they will look back at the last two weeks, a two-game snapshot that essentially told the tale.
In two games, the good Ticats and the bad Ticats came to play, two games where they went from doing no wrong on offence to rewriting the meaning of offensive ineptitude.
The final quarter in the final game at the last game to be played at Canad Inns Stadium saw the Ticats produce minus-6 yards in a period where the visitors trailed by 10 with the wind at their backs.
“It’s just been a roller coaster,’’ confided Justin Hickman, Hamilton’s starting defensive end who must now start to contemplate his future, which may involve an attempt at the NFL.
“It’s so disheartening.”
Every time the Ticats appeared to turn a corner, another misstep would soon follow, the last pitfall representing their most painful and pronounced.
On Tuesday, players will clean out their lockers, some for the final time as changes are inevitable in the Hammer.
What those changes are, who gets shown the door, who gets invited back, the Ticats themselves may not even know.
So perplexing is this team that virtually any personnel or coaching move must be pursued.
This is a team, in the end, no matter how bitter it turned out, that has no identity.
Here in the Peg, it’s Swaggerville, a Grey Cup-bound team that relies on a solid defence that makes plays, which allows a run-first offence to manage the clock and rely on opportunistic plays to win games.
In Vancouver, where the Lions will play host to Sunday’s 99th Grey Cup, B.C. is good on both sides of the ball, balanced on offence, stout on the defensive line and athletic in its back end.
What Sunday’s crushing loss to the Bombers exposed was the need to get bigger and bulkier on the line of scrimmage for Hamilton, which allowed Winnipeg to control the ball for 39 minutes.
Quarterback yet again became an issue, a topic in Tiger Town that will intensify this off-season.
Both the Argos and Ticats are now taking a hard look at the pivotal position with the name Henry Burris front and centre in a lot of people’s minds throughout the CFL.
Waiting in the wing is Steven Jyles, a guy Toronto head coach/GM Jim Barker has publicly endorsed and has even offered a contract in the range of $200,000.
In the days leading up to the semifinal in Montreal, talk in the league was that the Argos had offered Jyles what many deemed a genuine offer to ensure Hamilton didn’t get its hands on the athletic quarterback.
In Toronto, Jyles had no receivers to throw the ball, which won’t be an issue in Hamilton, where young and emerging pass catchers are in abundance.
What isn’t so clear is whether Jyles is a legitimate starter, but his ability to make plays with his legs and keep possessions alive are invaluable.
And even though Kevin Glenn left everything out in the cold on Sunday, succumbing to a knee injury early in the third quarter that would knock him out of the game, Glenn must know that his time in the Hammer has come to an end.
When Quinton Porter was asked to win a winnable game, he couldn’t deliver.
He wasn’t alone, but given the nature of the quarterback position, the biggest off-season question for the Ticats will be the guy who lines up under centre.
“I do feel like we’ve turned a corner,” head coach Marcel Bellefeuille. “We found a lot more answers than questions at the end of this year.”
But now that the end is here, there are more questions that need answers.
In two playoff games, Hamilton’s defence went from allowing the second-most passing yards in playoff history to yielding one of the more powerful rushing efforts that featured Chris Garrett torching the Ticats’ run defence for 190 yards, flirting with Winnipeg’s playoff record set by Michael Richardson (227 yards) in the 1992 East final.
And then there’s the offence, which went from scoring 52 points to three.
Granted, the conditions were different, the challenges deeper, but three points with a Grey Cup berth at stake is pathetic.
“It’s a step, I guess, but it’s too incremental,’’ veteran offensive guard Peter Dyakowski said of getting to the East final. “I’ve been here too many years in a row that ended with a playoff loss.
“We weren’t focused on making baby steps. We wanted to be playing for the Grey Cup in Vancouver and that’s not happening.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to get better.”
The same applies to the entire organization.
What the Ticats simply cannot do is fall into the trap the Argos fell into last season when they came within one game of a Grey Cup appearance.
In reality, the Argos weren’t that close.
The Ticats must realize they are not as close as well.
As the saying goes, so close and yet so far away.