Sober second thoughts on Lions’ season-opening win

Sober second thoughts as Wally Buono stretched his CFL career coaching wins lead and the Lions outlasted Calgary 20-18 Saturday:

The teacher still has something: The thought before the game was that Buono was going to have his hands full coaching against one of his former students, Dave Dickenson, but it was the former quarterback who showed he can still improve his game.

Dickenson’s team had the better running game, on paper anyway, and tried to establish Jerome Messam and Tory Harrison in the first half. But the Lions keyed on the pair, holding the pair to 35 yards from 12 carries, and didn’t stick with it in the second half. Here’s why; words not always heard when the Lions game plan is being assessed by opponents.

“(Lions defensive coordinator) Mark Washington had a nice plan, with some things we hadn’t seen,” Dickenson admitted. Indeed, the Lions rolled out the defensive package they held back in the pre-season, with a series of rotations involving Bo Lokombo, Dyshawn Davis, Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill.; It worked.

“All I know is what the win means to me and to the organization,” Buono said after career win number 255. “When you win under the pressure that the guys were under (see below)…there’s a lot to be proud of, but there’s a lot to look and fix.”

The Rainey-man man returns: Buono steadfastly maintains that Chris Rainey will be a better threat offensively if he is limited in his touches. You couldn’t argue his offensive production could get any better Saturday.

Rainey will receive more offensive touches when he has a better understanding of the playbook, but the enthused B.C. Place Stadium crowd was left thinking of the possibilities if he does. Rainey had just two touches on offence; one went for the Lions’ much-needed first touchdown on a short run, the other was a highlight-reel catch to sustain the critical, fourth-down drive highlighted by the running of Jeremiah Johnson.

“All I can say is wow!,” said Lions receiver Shawn Gore, who was Jon Jennings favourite pass receiver (11 targets, 67 yards from seven catches)

About those special teams:  There was major selling taking place during training camp about the Lions improvements on special teams with Marcello Simmons but if what was evident Saturday is any indication they can quickly go back to the glory days of this unit under Chuck McMann (Kidding.)

B.C. had people scrambling to determine the last time the not-so-specialty punt unit allowed three punts to be blocked in the first half. It’s a serious problem which was rectified eventually but their weaknesses will surely be exploited when Simmons takes his unit to face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Friday and special teams coaching whiz Jeff Reinebold.

“We went into halftime, watched some of the film and just got it done. We said enough is enough; let’s get it right,” said special teamer Rolly Lumbala, who was one of the players closest to two of the punt calamaties.

If you didn’t feel bad for Richie Leone, think about the night of Don Sweet, who this week will not only have to straighten out the Lions kicker but two others for whom he serves as a consultant, Calgary’s Rene Parades (1-3 FGs; missed convert) and Rob Maver.

One for the franchise: OK, it was no Picasso, but if ever there was a year where the Lions couldn’t afford to stumble during their first game at home, it’s this one, with apathy being the prevailing feeling about this team around town. They staggered home like a dunken sailor at 2 a.m., but they managed to survive.

The crowd, announced at 21,386, got something they can talk about with their friends and not water-cooler discussion that would make anyone stay away the next time. There was a buzz not felt for years in the place.  Jennings (24-42 passing, 248 yards) wasn’t great but adjusted his game. The game presentation was substantially better and the team has shown there’s something on which to improve. You can only imagine the vibe if the Stampeders had overcome their mistakes. For a week anyway, the Lions are alone atop their division.

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