Three things learned from the B.C. Lions’ opening night loss

If the objective was to pick between whether the attendance was more disappointing or the result, you could call the B.C. Lions opening-night 30-27 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos Saturday a draw.

Neither outcome was particularly palatable and it might be argued that on both fronts the Lions got what they deserved. A few things learned:

DR. BIGHILL: Adam Bighill was a pretty good linebacker during his days with the Lions and in his first game at B.C. Place Stadium as an interested onlooker, he made for a pretty good analyst as well. The first half had just concluded when the would-be linebacker of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints summed up the play of his former Lions teammates quite accurately.

“Far too many penalties,” Bighill said on the TSN 1040 broadcast. “It’s hard enough to beat a good team. It’s harder when you beating yourself.”

The Lions didn’t have to look in the mirror to know that even if they had a decent kicking game and a quarterback who had time to throw there was little way they would beat a quality divisional opponent with the flag parade which took place in the first half, which cost them a Chris Rainey return touchdown for the second straight week.

It got better in the second half but the number of times the Lions shot themselves in the collective foot was too much. Yet at halftime Bighill also gave a sense of what former Lions teammate Mike Reilly would do for the Eskimos when given a chance.

“Reilly lets his guys go up and make plays; you can’t let him be comfortable in the pocket. If he launches them downfield you’re going to have a long night.” Bighill said.

Sure enough, when the Eskimos needed a play the most Reilly fed Brandon Zylstra for a 76-yard completion that set up the game-winning field goal by Sean Whyte.

It was the first time Bighill was a spectator for a CFL game involving the Lions. He returns for main camp of the Saints July 24 and says his three-down pedigree has helped him during OTAs trying to make an NFL roster.

“The biggest difference is that receivers aren’t running into my face. The game is slower. I don’t have to see as much. Up here it’s a very tough game.. My eyes are able to capture everything.”

Quite a few things were easy to see in the opener.

O-LINE? OH-OH: It was bound to happen. Few onlookers had concerns about the state of the Lions’ offensive line in training camp, so when play began for real naturally they were well below average against arguably one of the best defensive fronts in the CFL.

At least there was no sugar-coating about what little time Jon Jennings had to throw.

“We can’t pass the ball to our high-powered offence when Jennings is getting hit like that,” confessed centre Cody Husband, who had a standout year last season but began the 2017 regular season by sending a number of snaps between the ankles of his quarterback.

“We don’t want to have anything where the team is looking to us for a way out. We just have to be better. It starts with us.”

It was quite evident that even at age 32 Odell Willis of the Eskimos still has game but besides Husband, right guard Kirby Fabien struggled, TSN 1040 analyst Chris Burns noted, and right tackle Antonio Johnson also had issues. The Lions can only hope second-year import Kelvin Palmer, who took Johnson’s job in training camp, can recover from an ankle injury quickly because if he can the job still looks to be available.

LONG-ING FOR CONSISTENCY : Only a true cynic would make note of the fact Lions kicker Ty Long and his predecessor, Richie Leone, know each other from their days growing up in Roswell, Ga., after Long’s first regular season game as a pro fell short of being memorable.

Long hit four of five field-goal attempts but twice gave up field positions with two punt singles, and had three singles overall. More importantly, he had one convert attempt blocked and was wide on a critical second attempt just after the Lions had rallied to pull into a 27-27 tie.

The misses became somewhat moot, when Reilly pulled out a play the Eskimos had been sitting on and Zylstra torched Anthony Thompson in the Lions secondary. Like Leone did for much of two CFL seasons marked with inconsistency, however, Long at least manned up when asked about his first game.

“It’s tough part of being a kicker. Not everything is going to work out. I let this team down. It sucks, I’ll be real. But there’s nothing i can do but go on,” Long said.

Long was primarily a field-goal kicker at Alabama-Birmingham which explains the on-the-job training that went with directional punting. But if the Lions had been letting Swayze Waters ease into the lineup after training camp quad tendonitis, there should be a greater sense of urgency now.

SHORT STUFF: Reilly said the Eskimos were waiting for the right moment to torch Thompson. “That was a play that had a great opportunity to be successful if they gave us the right coverage,” he said. “Every time we called a deep shot we hit most of them. If you’re calling them every play it’s not going to work but (Edmonton coaches) had confidence it would work.” …. Edmonton won despite the loss of linebacker J.C. Sherritt, whose season may be over before it began when he suffered a suspected torn Achilles in the first half… There were no shortage of ex-Lions who relished the Edmonton win, from White Rock’s Whyte to Parksville’s Justin Sorensen to defensive coordinator Mike Benevides, who got his first win in Vancouver in his current capacity. “When you go and play against your old team under the circumstances where he was let go, it feels very good to beat them in their house,” said Reilly. Best performance by a visiting player with B.C ties, however, went to ex-Vancouver College/UBC product Adam Konar, who did his father, Kevin, proud with nine tackles overall and was a force when Sherritt went down. Kevin Konar was a 10-year linebacker for the Lions in the 1980s… Attendance was announced at 19,175, which was one patron fewer than the crowd that turned out for last year’s West Division semifinal, which was the lowest crowd for a playoff game in franchise history.

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.