Time for last rites

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

The last few shovels full of dirt were ready, the preacher-man was clearing his throat for the last rites and nearly 30,000 spectators were settled into their seats to pay their respects.

That's when the body twitched.

False alarm, folks. Must have been nerves.

Because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are, indeed, a football team without a pulse.

Last night's teasing, 19-17 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders saw to that, as the Bombers, a miserable 3-9, would need an absolute miracle now -- six straight wins and a ton of help, for instance -- to steal a CFL playoff spot.

"Can you print four-letter words?" subdued O-lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek said after the game.

Just one that matters: D-E-A-D.

Not that the Bombers didn't make it interesting, keeping most of the sellout crowd wondering if this death-watch would continue at least another week.

Just as well that it won't, because the Bombers aren't good enough in any phase of the game.

Offensively, they stunk like a corpse in the second half, not even managing 100 yards. Ask most observers what they thought of the execution, and we guess they'd be in favour of it.

The play selection wasn't any better.

I mean, with the game -- make that the season -- on the line, the Bomber offence made horrible use of its two best weapons, handing the ball to Charles Roberts four times and getting it to Milt Stegall once in that second half.

"Every offensive lineman likes to run the ball more," Abou-Mechrek said, choosing his words carefully.

When you've got a back like Roberts, it's a no-brainer.

Defensively, this was actually a pretty good effort. Other than the opening minutes of the second half, when Saskatchewan drove 73 yards on its first possession.

Up until that, the beleaguered Bomber D, ranked last in pretty much every CFL category that means anything, had been in control.

But the ease with which the 'Riders scored that touchdown, taking their first lead of the game, at 18-15, was unsettling for fans who hoped their team had finally figured out a way to stop someone.

And instead of answering back, the Bombers offence began to sputter.

Quarterback Kevin Glenn tossed bulls-eyes over the first 30 minutes, but missed the dart board altogether too many times in the second.

But it wasn't an arm that cost the Bombers most on this night.

It was two feet.

"The biggest factor in the game was the punting and kicking," head coach Jim Daley said. "Our punter and kicker struggled, and that's unfortunate."

Troy Westwood's season from hell continued with a missed 42-yarder in the third quarter. Daley wasn't happy with the placement of his kickoffs, either.

And punter Jon Ryan had a rough night, punctuated by a 29-yard kick that set the Roughriders up at the Winnipeg 50 and led to Saskatchewan's first touchdown, late in the first half.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Bombers return men weren't deep enough, and the ball went over their heads for a single point, extending Saskatchewan's lead to four points.

If you don't think that was a big deal, you didn't see Daley giving special teams coach Scott Fawcett the gears on the sidelines. Every point was going to count on this night, and Daley knew it.

He must also know that it's over, now.

All the glass-half-full optimism in the world won't change that.

The only question left is, do you immediately begin re-tooling this team for next year, when this city hosts the Grey Cup? And if so, how do you do it -- with the same people in charge?

Tough questions for what's been another tough year.


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