The telltale signs have been there. The fact the B.C. Lions are dealing with adversity for the first time this year is clearly measured in both words and deeds.
Some players referred to their first two-game losing streak of the season as a slump. Others say they’re in a funk. Even more try to put it to context but cannot do so adequately.
They are the first signs that identify the fact that despite the fact they are a 9-6 team the Lions have yet to understand what it takes to be a consistent winner at the right time, and Saturday play the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos, who accurately figured out that formula to perfection last season.
If the season-opening win over the Calgary Stampeders gave the Lions a massive adrenalin shot, the two losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has removed much of their momentum, which is why the game at B.C. Place Stadium represents something of a crossroads.
A win of five points or more would give the Lions both a four-point cushion and the season series over the Eskimos. A loss and they can fully give into the prevailing sentiment that the Lions will start the playoffs as they last did in 2014 in the East Division.
Though the Lions are 7-1 against the East and just 2-5 against the West so far, that playoff trek is not likely to end well given it has never resulted in a Grey Cup appearance for them in the past.
Wally Buono has seen the signs of trouble. He said earlier this week the Lions lacked “joy” in the two losses against Winnipeg and is hoping for an attitude adjustment.
“The crossover means you’re going over there in a negative state of mind,” he contended this week. “If we’re going to cross over and be 12-6, I’ll be fine. I don’t care where we play but I do care how we go into the playoffs. That’s my biggest concern; feeling good about yourself. It’s the drudgery of the season but we have to put it to a stop.”
So in an effort to stop the drudgery from overtaking them, the Lions have resorted to some old-fashioned hoopla, led primarily by quarterback Travis Lulay, who admitted his primal scream running onto the practice field every day this week has been a conscious effort to change the collective mental state of his team.
“Everybody has a funk,” Lulay said. “If we start to mope about the last couple of games we start to believe maybe that’s who you are. We’re still the same team. We were in great position to win those last two games. But that doesn’t change who we are. It’s a choice how you want to respond.”
Veteran players on defence see a team that has changed, and not for the better.
“In our losses we did all the things you need to get into deficits, whether that’s penalties, turnovers, or not being physical. Those things make you not have joy,” defensive back Ryan Phillips said.
“When we win you see five guys coming to the ball celebrating. You don’t see that right now.”
That spells trouble, because to pull themselves out of their malaise the Lions will need to rely on a second-year quarterback in Jon Jennings who has progressed remarkably but is still prone to making errant passes. Jennings has thrown five interceptions in the last two weeks, easily the worst stretch of his young career, and though he has said he needs to learn from his mistakes has been guilty of committing repeat errors.
“We all got to do our part but it starts with me,” Jennings said. Without change, the Lions season under Buono 2.0 will end in the playoffs just as it did when Mike Benevides wasn’t the Eskimos’ defensive coordinator but coached the Lions, or last season under Jeff Tedford. The telltale signs are there.
LIONS TALES: Tackle Jabar Westerman (ankle) was deactivated by the Lions, who will bring back import Mich’ael Brooks (above) to play alongside Bryant Turner and start Canadian David Menard against Edmonton… B.C. will finish off its regular schedule with a pair of games against Saskatchewan starting next week and will not be short of motivation regardless of the outcome against the Eskimos. It had not been forgotten by the Lions that Riders coach/GM Chris Jones plucked two players from B.C., Ese Mrabure and Dillon Guy, at the start of the season when they didn’t accept the club’s offer of a practice roster spot. The Riders almost did it again earlier this month when they put in a claim on Lions offensive lineman Kelvin Palmer when he was being deactivated and moved back to their practice roster. Palmer was moved to the one-game injured list this week. The tactic is well within the rules but players moved off the active roster are often not subject to a claim as a tacit agreement…. Proving again that the CFL community is a tight-knit group, Buono is spearheading a funding campaign for Jennifer Miles, wife of Eskimos coach and former Lions safety Barron Miles. In the last few months Jennifer has been dealing with an abdominal condition that has left the family and doctors searching for answers. Buono and wife Sande are helping raise awareness and funds for a $30,000 medical procedure that is not covered by insurance. Details: https://www.gofundme.com/CFLfamily