Tait: Blue Bombers left to pick up the playoff pieces
Their promising 2017 season came to a full stop in a 39-32 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday.
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It’s the suddenness and finality of it all that hit the Winnipeg Blue Bombers like a hard slap across the face late Sunday night.
Their promising 2017 season came to a full stop in a 39-32 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos in the West Semi-Final that highlighted both their defensive deficiencies and the absences of injured stars like Darvin Adams, Maurice Leggett, Jamaal Westerman and Travis Bond.
The Bombers were scorched by Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly and all his offensive weapons, and a failed fake punt early in the second half seemed to rock the squad as Edmonton counter-punched to break open a 10-10 tie at the half with a 29-6 run into the fourth quarter.
That left the Bombers to conduct their annual locker-room cleanout and exit meetings with the club’s brass on Monday, in between all the back slaps and hugs some two weeks earlier than everyone had planned.
Every team in this league, after all, begins the season planning on playing on the last Sunday in November.
“This day and the cut-down day during training camp are my two least-favourite days of the year,” said veteran receiver Weston Dressler. “I’m not ready to be done. It makes it kind of too real at this point. I haven’t accepted it all yet.
“But then you come in today and you start to realize it more. It’s not a fun day.”
The Bombers have taken significant steps in bringing the franchise back to respectability over the last two years, earning a playoff spot for the first time in five seasons in 2016, to finishing second in the West Division and landing the first postseason home date since 2011 in 2017.
The reality, however, is that for all their success they are 0-2 in their last two playoff trips. And in the world of the Canadian Football League where one-year contracts are now the norm, that means this veteran team which has long preached its camaraderie and brotherhood will look a whole lot different by the time training camp starts late next May.
“We had a good year, but to end it like that… you know we wanted the Grey Cup,” said right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, one of many pending free agents this winter. “Some things happened in the game (Sunday) that hurt us and we can’t change it.
“I feel the last two years we’ve built the relationship from the staff to the players and the bond can only grow from that. But we have to take the next step and I want to do it here.”
All this explains why there has been a pall over the Bombers clubhouse since early Sunday evening when the final gun sounded in the loss to Edmonton.
In one afternoon, all the work that goes into a season – from the scouting and recruiting, to the coaching, the training and the daily practice sessions and the 21 games, including preseason and playoffs – essentially gets busted apart.
But that’s pro sports. And now then the process of picking up the pieces begins all over again.