The Winnipeg Blue Bombers found a running game and for the most part, saw their defence come up with a gutsy effort that was almost enough to steal a game on the road.
The key word is almost.
Oh, and kicker Justin Palardy was virtually automatic, nailing all five of his field goal attempts to provide the bulk of the offence.
But a failure to move the ball during the second half, combined with a costly blown coverage with the game on the line, proved to be the difference as the Blue Bombers ended their season-opening road odyssey with a 25-22 loss to the Toronto Argonauts on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.
The loss capped an 0-4 start and will see the Blue Bombers return home to Canad Inns Stadium to play their next four games as they try to dig themselves out of this early hole.
An optimist will tell you the Blue Bombers took an important step on Wednesday, considering Alex Brink was making his first start of the season for a team playing for the second time in six days and for the fourth consecutive time on the road.
Former NFLer Chad Simpson certainly gave the offence a spark, rushing for 68 yards in the first half (91 in the contest) and adding a 31-yard reception, allowing the Blue Bombers to have a legitimate threat out of the backfield.
However, Simpson seemed to suffer a calf injury early in the second half (Blue Bomber athletic therapist Al Couture was seen on camera rubbing Simpson's left calf) and his number wasnít called nearly as often down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the Blue Bombers did a much better job on defence, playing with passion, putting some pressure on Ricky Ray and forcing a few turnovers.
However, with the Blue Bombers clinging to the lead, Ray found a soft spot in the zone coverage and delivered a perfect strike to Jason Barnes, whose 37-yard major put the Argos up for good.
For a team that hadn't actually held the lead all season, you could make the argument that actually having two leads in the contest represented progress.
Conventional wisdom dictates that a head coach shouldnít pull his starting quarterback if the game is close, barring extraordinary circumstances.
However, the folks on Twitter were calling for the removal of Brink since late in the second quarter.
But much like the baseball manager who leaves his starting pitcher in a batter too long, only to see him surrender a big home run, head coach Paul LaPolice stuck with his starter right until the end.
While we understand it was a short week and LaPolice was trying to establish some confidence in Brink, he finished the game 9-for-34 for 185 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He had a rushing touchdown but finished the contest 1-for-13 to end the game and the inability to move the chains with the game on the line proved costly.
We liked the way Brink tried to stretch the field and got Clarence Denmark (four catches, 115 yards) involved, but he threw into double coverage frequently and obviously needs to improve his completion percentage to prevent Joey Elliott from taking over the starting job.
Already without several important starters due to injury, the Blue Bombers filled the infirmary before the first half was complete.
Joining the likes of Buck Pierce, Alex Suber, Brandon Stewart, Marcellus Bowman, Andre Douglas and Cory Watson were receiver Terrence Edwards (lower-body), safety Ian Logan (suspected hip flexor) and defensive tackle Brandon Collier (shoulder).
If that wasnít bad enough, budding star Chris Matthews was taken to the locker room during the first half after he fell hard to the turf while trying to catch a ball in double coverage.
Matthews returned but finished with only one catch for 16 yards.
Linebacker Dustin Doe was also replaced at one point with a lower-body issue, but he came back before the game was out.
BITS AND PIECES
Wouldnít you know it, someone other than Bryant Turner actually recorded a sack for the Blue Bombers when Jason Vega chased down Ray and forced a fumble. Then in the fourth quarter, Alex Hall got into the act with a sack of his own. For those of you scoring at home, thatís two sacks for the defensive ends on this evening. Turner leads the Blue Bombers after recording their first five sacks of the campaign...Best hustle play of the evening? How about mammoth Argos O-lineman Chris Van Zeyl (all 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds of him) showing off the wheels and instincts on a missed field goal to trip up Jovon Johnson with a shoestring tackle in the end zone to secure a single point....Argos P/K Swayze Waters was given a warm welcome on the opening kickoff. As the man who replaced Noel Prefontaine went to force Demond Washington out of bounds, the Blue Bombers returner lowered his shoulder and drilled Swayze...Speaking of Swayze, how often do you think heís on the receiving end of Dirty Dancing jokes? Whatever number you come up with, Iím going to take the over.