This year’s Banjo Bowl was going to tell us a lot about the 2011 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The head coach said it, and so did the quarterback.
We’d find out about the Bombers’ mental toughness. We’d find out about their character.
When you’re taken to the woodshed in an opponent’s park one week, you’d better welcome them with the same hospitality in your own park the next.
Everything was set up perfectly for the Bombers to play their best game. A full house, a healthy roster and some wounded pride. A dangerous concoction.
Basically, Sunday’s Banjo Bowl was all about finding out how good the Bombers really are.
Turns out that 7-1 record was a bit of a mirage.
Last week’s Labour Day Un-Classic could have been a blip, and on its own didn’t prove anything.
Sunday’s embarrassment did.
This team is reeling.
If, as corner Jovon Johnson said, the Bombers took it on the chin in Regina, they offered up the rest of their face, Sunday, and it might take a while to clean up the mess.
Once again, the defence couldn’t cover. Miffed by three Darian Durant touchdown passes a week ago, the secondary whiffed on four in the rematch.
“We weren’t expecting them to take a lot of shots down the field,” Johnson said. “And they did.”
Doubled up in the turnover department (4-2) a week ago, the Bombers were humiliated (6-1) on Sunday.
They were fooled by a fake kick more than a few people saw coming.
They couldn’t protect their quarterback, as Buck Pierce took another helacious hit (remember Week 1?) and looked wonky the rest of the day.
When’s the last time Pierce threw five interceptions in a game?
“Never have,” a sore Pierce managed. “Never have in any league, any situation.”
About the only thing better about the Bombers from a week ago was their composure — and even that wasn’t by much, as they took another dozen penalties to Saskatchewan’s nine.
This might not have been as embarrassing or damning as coach Mike Kelly’s only Banjo Bowl, two years ago — but it wasn’t far off.
Ignore the first quarter, and it was actually just as bad.
After scoring the first 10 points, the Bombers were whipped 45-6 over the next 40 minutes.
If you think I’m being harsh, get a load of how Doug Brown was feeling.
“It’s quite a low point for us,” the 10-year D-lineman said. “We never counter punched the rest of the way.”
Brown actually said he couldn’t remember being this deflated, considering the team’s 7-3 record.
“A lot of things are amassing themselves and going wrong at inopportune times right now,” he said. “And we’re not able to respond. That’s our biggest problem.”
Their pride wounded in Regina, the Bombers “turtled,” Brown said, “put our head between our legs. And it was just a horror show.”
That sums it up nicely.
Until these last two weeks I believed three meetings with the Montreal Alouettes in the second half of the season would tell the true story of these up-and-coming Bombers.
And maybe they still will.
But the Riders have penned a pretty damning prologue.
What was a four-point cushion for first place in the CFL East can vanish next Sunday in Montreal, a game the Bombers may well have to play without Pierce, who was barely moving in the post-game locker-room, his ribs were so banged up.
“I don’t know anything,” Pierce said. “I just know that I’m sore.”
The quarterback on the other side of the ball, linebacker Joe Lobendahn, is out for a while with a bad knee.
Adversity has reared its head, as it invariably will during an 18-game season.
Sunday’s Banjo Bowl was a disturbing indication the Bombers aren’t built to handle it.