Two or three years ago, a victory -- any kind of victory -- by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have produced a conga line in the locker-room, an all-night party and an extra day off.
After the Big Blue came back from an eight-point deficit to edge the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 21-19 on Saturday night at Canad Inns Stadium, the locker-room atmosphere screamed loss.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn had the same scowl on his face that he normally reserves for blowout losses. Slotback Milt Stegall, ice on his bruised shoulder, looked like he'd been run over by a bus.
Even Juran Bolden, the happy-go-lucky cornerback whose fourth-quarter interception turned the game around, had it toned down a notch or two.
Perhaps the Bombers were relieved, but it's more likely they were mad for not destroying a 2-11 team that is now 2-23 on the road since 2005.
Bomber fans should consider that kind of reaction a good thing.
"It used to be we were usually looking up and saying if we win three of the next five we can get in the playoffs," Bombers GM Brendan Taman said yesterday.
"Now we're looking at first place. So there are always positives even when it seems like there are negatives."
The Bombers lead the East Division at 8-4-1 and have a five-point lead on the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts with five games remaining. Saturday night's performance, however, left an uneasy feeling in the team's collective gut.
The Bombers will find out on Friday night just how good (or bad) they are when the West Division-leading B.C. Lions (9-3-1) come to town looking to avenge a 22-21 home loss to Winnipeg in August.
'A GOOD THING'
Taman sounded yesterday like someone had just run over his dog -- and then backed up and run over it again. Yet he balanced that dour mood with the fact that hey, his team won the game.
"When you can play like that and win a game, that's a good thing," he said. "And we've got three of the last five at home, which is a good thing. We're playing really well at home."
Yes, the Bombers are 5-1 at home, but if they repeat Saturday's performance against the Lions the defending Grey Cup champs will leave town thinking all they'll have to do to repeat is not get the dates of their playoff games wrong.
"We need to bounce back and play better," Taman said. "It's a good measuring stick game.
"... We've seen our offence play better, our defence is playing better, and our special teams have been, well, our special teams."
With the exceptions of Troy Westwood's booming punts and Albert Johnson III's decent returns, the special teams were positively putrid once again, particularly the punt protection team.
Westwood had one blocked -- "It was a group effort of mistakes on that punt," Taman said -- and had a couple others almost make it no farther than the end of his foot.
"Punt protection was the one that was scary, which up to this week has been no problem for the most part," Taman said. "We just need to shore that up."
That may include using even more starters on special teams, Taman said.
Then, remembering once again that his team has a five-point lead, Taman went back to focusing on the positive: It was, after all, Westwood's 85-yard punt that led to Bolden's game-changing interception.
"Our special teams almost won the game in a weird way," he said. "So as much as we might think they're horrible ..."
Not exactly a compliment, but a compliment nonetheless. Maybe things aren't as bad as they sound after all.