After third straight loss, the Lions are a team in crisis

OTTAWA — One minute after the outside world had been let into the locker room, nobody moved.

Three minutes later, same thing. Five minutes had passed and it seemed apparent players on the B.C. Lions had been glued into the back of their locker stalls. Most stared at the floor. One player put a towel over top of his head and left it there.

On the offensive side of the Lions locker room, there were no answers, but there also seemed no doubt. After a 31-24 loss to the Ottawa Redblacks that clearly flattered the visitors, the Lions seemed to understand they are not the team that started the CFL season.

The only words that mattered did not come from Travis Lulay, who gamely tried to capture the despair that has come over the Lions over their last three losses. The only words that mattered came from coach/GM Wally Buono, who had to admit the obvious when it comes to the biggest issue facing a team that has a few of them.

“The good answer is I’ll take the week to mull it over,” Buono said, after losing his third straight for the first time since his coaching comeback, when the post-game discussion quickly centered around the team’s quarterback.

But even Buono had to face facts when it comes to the play of Jon Jennings.

“…But you got to look and what happened. We can’t afford any more mulligans. … At this point I believe Travis has done enough to be our starter.”

There aren’t any metrics left now where it can be stated that Jennings, having thrown only four touchdown passes against nine interceptions, can remain with the starters, and there was little resolve evident about the decision from the 25-year-old quarterback either.

In the relative blink of an eye in a football sense, Jennings has gone from prospect to suspect, from a quarterback who would have looked forward to exploring his NFL options after the season to one who can only hope for another chance at some point.

Lulay, unaware that Buono had come to the obvious conclusion about his starter outside the locker room, as always was left to act as the social conscience of the Lions when explanations were being sought.

“Our guys are disappointed. That means we care,” Lulay said. “If guys were OK with losing three in a row and our effort today then I’d be more concerned. Obviously there’s a great sense of urgency. There’s still hope. If there’s no hope and care in the locker room then I’m scared. I believe we’ll regroup.”

But if there were no immediate answers inside the locker room, some things are more clear looking from the outside, as the Lions grasp tenuously to a crossover playoff position.

Without a reversal in form, the final year of the Lions likely under Buono could end as an era ended with the Calgary Stampeders, out of answers and of the playoffs for the first time under the ownership of David Braley.

They play well at times on defence, but give up far too much field position on special teams and seem rudderless on offence.

A few other points worth noting:

Calling out the play-calling: There’s no direct finger-pointing, but it seems abundantly clear that some players are frustrated with the play-calling of offensive coordinator Khari Jones lately.

Of course, it’s not easy to design a productive offence when once again the offensive line protection for Lulay or Jennings is less than ideal.

Chris Rainey, who may not get check-marks for his assignments on every offensive play but is by far the Lions most versatile weapon, had three offensive touches. Rainey and Chris Williams, who was supposed to be the deep threat option that would make the offence the class of the division, had fewer targets combined Saturday than Marco Iannuzzi, who was targeted seven times but only caught three thrown his way.

Jeremiah Johnson, who started the season producing more points than any on his team, apparently has been placed in a witness protection program. Johnson bit his tongue hard when he had five carries against Calgary, thinking he would be utilized more. He was nearly bleeding with only seven carries against Ottawa.

Rainey was incredulous, and he wasn’t alone among members of the offence, when the Lions couldn’t convert on a second-and-short play to start the third quarter, which was only the second time in the game to that point when the Lions remotely threatened to produce points. To him, it conjured up perhaps the most memorable goal-line play in the Pacific Northwest in his lifetime.

“It felt like the damn Seahawks in the damn Super Bowl,” said Rainey, hardly a ringing endorsement of the play-calling of Jones at that point.

And the solution?

“Ain’t no sugar-coating or beating around the bush. Give your playmakers, who make plays in practice day in, day out, the ball in the games. It’s that simple,” he said.

“We should (stretch the field) but that’s up to the coaches. We got a bye week. They got a whole week to think about it just like all the players got a whole week to look in the mirror. This is ridiculous right now. I can’t take no more of this; no more.”

It was only slightly more rosy on the defensive side of the locker room, where issues have also been identified.

“We’re lacking communication on the field. Off the field we’re good,” said Loucheiz Purifoy, one of the few players who showed fight up to and after the final gun, when he had to be pulled away from some Ottawa players after it was over.

The stress fractures were starting to show.

Fork in the road: Lulay didn’t argue much when it was suggested that the Lions might be at a crossroads. Others were left to ponder whether the 5-5 Lions are a 5-2 team that has simply lost three straight, or one that has lost its way.

“Hell of a question, man,” said Johnson. “Personally I feel we’re that 5-2 team that’s dropped three in a row. When I look at film it’s never effort.” That shifts the focus to coaching once more.

If they’re lucky, the Lions will take the bye week to realize they’re not good enough and somehow hope that 2015 draft pick Brett Boyko finally becomes disinterested in chasing an NFL practice roster spot and joins the Lions.

Buono inferred even before Saturday’s game that changes are coming but also admitted that after three straight games where it takes at least a half before looking even close to dangerous offensively, they won’t be enough without a change of approach from within.

“Every week seems like that,” responded Lulay, when asked if his team is at a crossroads. “This is the time when the entire team and staff (should) do a self-scout on yourself. Look at your own play and what do you want to improve the next eight weeks. This is kind of a moment where the team steps back.”

If the Lions step back just a little bit further, they will be watching post-season for the first time in more than two decades. Small wonder they looked glued inside their locker stalls.

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich

Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.
Lowell Ullrich
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Lowell Ullrich
About Lowell Ullrich (116 Articles)
Lowell Ullrich has covered the Lions since 1999 and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is also a contributor to TSN1040.

44 Comments on After third straight loss, the Lions are a team in crisis

  1. Been talking with a co-worker for two years now wondering if Khari Jones is the right guy for OC. Clearly, Jonathan Jennings did not look sharp again and the team did not look confident when he was out there. I saw a bit of enthusiasm when Travis came into the game and I think the only reason it was a bit was because we were so far down BUT…Even the D picked up their play when he came in and gave him more opportunities/possessions. Travis is our leader and I think the team believes that right now too.

  2. Having a good(!) back-up QB is the best insurance in the game, period. BC isn’t done yet.

  3. Backup? Someone should rethink that! #justsayin

  4. IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 10:40 am //

    Crisis might be a little strong. Remember BC made some big changes this off season and probably need to upgrade some Canadian content. Jennings is experiencing what many QB like him do.

  5. While I had always thought that JJ was over-hyped and over-rated, I was excited that it appeared that a new, young QB was in the league. Hopefully, he can regain his confidence and work through what is hopefully only the sophomore jinx. For now Lulay would be my starter and that should concern the rest of the west. Riders need to make some hay now that the EE and lions are in a bit of a slide.

  6. Defenses around the league are jelling and becoming far more productive. Early in the season, the offense tends to win games, later in the season, the defense becomes dominant, meaning the offensive side of the ball has to get better. BC’s offense has declined, and Jennings still looks hurt to me. He’s either got something slightly wrong with his shoulder or perhaps has the nagging aftermath of an undetected concussion. I suspect he will have a huge game sooner or later and then return to his normal performance level, meaning whatever is ailing him now will be healed and confidence restored. Getting tired of the camera always panning to Buono while he chews his cud. Does he have some kind of nervous problem? His jaw is always in a chewing motion like he’s keeping time to his favourite song, Let The Bodies Hit The Floor, or perhaps Yesterday.

    • Lol! Nice diverse taste in music there! I’ve been wondering the same thing. I don’t think I’ve seen a QB lose it quite like this after coming back from an injury, and I wonder if there’s still something wrong.

  7. Beamreach // August 27, 2017 at 11:10 am //

    “The Lions are a Team in crisis”, hmmm ,they are tied in points with the first place Argos of the East division .
    How do you think the rest of the East division must feel if BC is in a crisis?
    Is it time to have two teams allowed to crossover for the playoffs ?
    The East division continues to be in crisis mode year after year, it has become the normal.

    • Dan Bombers // August 27, 2017 at 1:58 pm //

      I agree time to change the playoff format. Unfair that teams are losing out on playoff revenues cause of this current east west playoff format

  8. BC Lions are ‘NOT’ in crisis !!

  9. The O-line is the weakness in the team; play is too inconsistent. Opposing defenses are putting too much pressure on the QB. Saskatchewan only rushed three and put pressure on the QB all night. The only person that has played decent all season is Cody Husband and hes been injured for several games. Until there are changes on the O-line QB play will be inconsistent. O-line has been an issue for several years and is the weak link on the team.

  10. Scottsask // August 27, 2017 at 12:19 pm //

    I wouldn’t call it a crisis, just a bit of a slide. I’m sure they’ll bounce back. I said it early in the preseason it will be a dogfight coming out of the West this year.

  11. Wrong Way Wally // August 27, 2017 at 12:43 pm //

    Coaching must be a problem. Every game we see a couple plays where confusion reigns. And that ain’t right.

  12. My post disappeared so hopefully not a double post here later on. Problem with BC Lions = Tired old coaching / management / ownership. They’ve had a couple of years to produce solid O and D lines and have failed. The play calling is boring and there is no razzle dazzle plays anywhere on a team loaded with talent. And they wonder why more and more people prefer not to go to games. It all falls on ownership and management. That part has been great in the past but now is looking old, tired and not very interested.

  13. IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm //

    I heard someone tell me at the stamps game last night that wally can’t even stand to conduct practice anymore because of this knees. Is that true?

    • Terry Wilson // August 27, 2017 at 3:02 pm //

      Yes, he can only stand for short periods of tie. He is going to retire after this season.

    • No ! He still jogs. Where did you hear that ???
      Practise is what…An hour. Games are longer.
      I didn’t see any lawn chairs out there last game.

      • Pretty darn good shape for 67 if you ask me

      • Terry Wilson // August 27, 2017 at 7:15 pm //

        it was a story on the 6 o’clock news. apparently the practices are not long enough because they are at times a very confused team.

      • IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 7:45 pm //

        Practice you tend to walk around more but yeah it’s true he manages to stand for games

  14. Think the Lions will by a new team after their bye. Get heads screwed on,ass and feet going in the same direction,and some players back then things should get interesting. That said, hope my Riders keep focused the next two games. Heard from a certain Nag (adnauseam) that we were just fortunate to win the last two for a myriad of reasons.

    • IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 2:54 pm //

      No one said you were lucky. Just to keep it in perspective. Scores like Friday with 2 pick 6s a blocked punt for a td and a returned missed convert probably suggest your opponent wasn’t playing great. I’ve heard from many rider fans and seen many forums were they have appointed the riders the team to beat and a sweep of Winnipeg and 2 more wins against Calgary are imminent. If you think the type of games you’ve had the last 2 weeks will be the norm you are going to be disappointed.

      • Last night was a snooze fest,

      • “probably suggest your opponent wasn’t playing great” … hog wash. It suggests the Riders are playing great and made a lot of great plays. Just happen to be one game. What’s even more funny is not one story on the Stumps great victory last night on 3D. Pretty much says they are non factor except in the eyes of they 3 fans on here. All one in the same person too.

        • White Horse // August 27, 2017 at 4:41 pm //

          Ladd Law…you seem to have a lot of negative opinions..Maybe you should check 3D website and you will find article on STAMPS game V’s Toronto.
          The name Stumps is very rude as well. However, it is harvest time in riderland so i suspect straw dust is affecting your logic! You also said the Argos would stomp the Stamps. So now what?

          • Just for the hater Stumps fans who constantly bash all things Riders and Saskatchewan. You guys comment more on Rider stories than your own. Gets old fast. Get sick quick. Still looking for that press on that awesomely boring game last night.

          • Just looked again no press on the Stumps Argos game. Maybe point it out. Wishful thinking and thought Ray could do enough to win. The Argos defense did their part until they ran out of gas.

          • greenrider89 // August 28, 2017 at 11:57 am //

            Interesting to see when it comes to your Stamps, White Horse, you suddenly become extremely defensive. “Lot of negative opinions” (as above)? Or being “very rude” (again, as above)? Really? Weren’t you the one that was being extremely negative with every Rider story? So, what your telling all of us: You like to dish it out on the Roughriders, but don’t like receiving it on the Stamps’ stories? Lot’s of questions with your comments, White Horse??? Lot’s of questions???

        • White Horse // August 27, 2017 at 5:49 pm //

          Ladd Law…GO to Find My Team on top row of website…it is Sunday after all.

        • IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 7:47 pm //

          There is a story

        • IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 8:26 pm //

          4-4. Vs 7-1-1….bottom line..have all the headlines you want. I’ll take the wins

        • IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 8:46 pm //

          Ladd Law…maybe you should asked some of the rider players how much of a non factor they found the Stamps to be last month

      • Riders defence played great the last two games and were the key to victory in their last two games. Could be that the Riders D has turned the corner and could be the key to many Rider wins going forward. Good to see the Riders competitive for a change.

      • greenrider89 // August 28, 2017 at 11:36 am //

        Honestly, horsie, I don’t believe you. I think most Rider fans have a pretty fair look at the season and are hopeful the team can make a run to make the playoffs. Most wise Rider fans, especially on this site would be happy with a split with Winnipeg and Calgary. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

  15. Terry Wilson // August 27, 2017 at 3:06 pm //

    Lowell always tells it like it is. No sugarcoating. Hopefully next year the Lions will have new owners and new coaches because clearly what they have now is not working on and off the field.

  16. IMAN ICE HORSIE // August 27, 2017 at 7:48 pm //

    Losing wally us devastating. You don’t replace the likes of him

  17. I see 2 struggling QB’s who are getting paid more than they are worth, Jennings in BC, and Collaros in Hamilton. So swap them both…couldn’t hurt. Hell, once upon a time Clements got traded for Brock. While they are at it TC’s can also throw in Banks, who Wally has long coveted.

    • Wally would make that trade, but forget about Banks nobody wants him.

      • Ah, not so fast Terry Wilosn, Wally did want him 2 years ago but he decided to sign an extension with the TC’s. Then Wally went out and got Rainey. And now Williams. I think Banks is finito as a TC but not as a player. Change of scenery would do him well and I think he’s the kind of player that would thrive under Wally, albeit Wally is currently having some issues of his own.

  18. Lions made a good move in deciding to have Lulay remain the starter, but let’s not make the mistake in thinking the offense is their big problem because it isn’t. Lets look at some important defensive statistics and see where the Lions rank among all other CFL teams:

    Pressures Allowed: No. 9 (last)
    QB Pressures: No. 9 (last)
    Def. Ret. TD’s: No. 9 (last)
    Sacks Allowed: No. 8 (2nd last)
    T/O Ratio: No. 7 (3rd last)

    Clearly they need to make some adjustments or personnel changes on the defensive side of the ball if they want to improve.

    For comparison, let’s take a look at their offensive statistics:

    Rushing TD’s: No. 1
    Offensive TD’s: No. 1
    1st Downs: No. 2
    Time of Poss: No. 3
    Net Offense: No. 3
    Yds. Per play: No. 3

    From my point of view, they don’t appear to be struggling offensively, but as we continue to see Saskatchewan improve their D throughout the season, the Lions will continue to slide unless they find answers.

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