Mourning after: Lessons learned from Lions latest loss

Did the B.C. Lions hit rock bottom Friday? Perhaps not, but after their 24-23 loss to the equally loathsome Hamilton Tiger-Cats they can at least see the ocean floor. Rock bottom will be if the sixth setback in their last eight games is the one which costs them their 20-year streak of playoff appearances.

Some thoughts after a dreary night:

Getting offensive: The look on the face of Jon Jennings as he tried to explain how the Lions can continue to perform so miserably on offence spoke of a quarterback who doesn’t have the answers and isn’t working with any coaches who can help find them.

“It’s a combination of a lot of things. We didn’t do enough. It’s frustrating. We had some opportunities. Give them credit but we got to find a way to be better,” Jennings said, and not for the first time either.

Jennings didn’t throw an interception for the fourth game this season and shortened more of his throws to increase his effectiveness, but the fact remains the Lions are still only getting better quarterbacking than the two other teams that figure to miss the playoffs, Hamilton and Montreal.

Jennings’ Quar rating, the new omnibus stat devised this season by the league, only exceeds the number compiled by dormant Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros.

There’s no rating, however, to rank offensive coordinators around the league, and though nobody on the offensive side of the Lions locker room would publicly throw anyone under the bus, there was the clear sense some have become frustrated with the red zone play-calling of Khari Jones.

Getting the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line used to result in success or at least did on average three of every four trips. Only once in four tries did the Lions score a touchdown against Hamilton. Equally ghastly is the fact only twice did they start a drive at midfield or better Friday, which has everything to do with the fact Chris Rainey has replaced Jeremiah Johnson in the Lions witness protection program.

Jones isn’t in charge of getting the Lions defence to tackle better and stopping Hamilton running back Alex Green, who hadn’t played in three seasons and yet ran for 140 yards in his CFL debut Friday.

Special teams isn’t the purview of Jones either, but finding ways to get the ball into the hands of their most athletic offensive player is and it is wearing on Rainey. Small wonder, perhaps why a scoreboard ad in which Jones is seen drawing up plays on a whiteboard drew derisive responses from a few of the paying customers behind the Lions bench. The only thing more depressing to some east-siders was watching Bombers-Redblacks on the big board before the game and seeing Andrew Harris churn up yardage in an offence directed by Paul LaPolice.

The season has morphed from questions about the offence, defensive pressure, ability to cover deep, to the lack of a return game and stability on the offensive line. Add it up and that’s why Wally Buono is coach of a 6-7 team at the moment.

 Shades of old: As daunting of a challenge of fixing the on-field product, an even bigger assignment is restoring the confidence of a fan base which seems to be intent on staying home at least until they can regularly beat quality opponents.

The Lions are by no means the only sports business suffering the effects of the lure of the mancave on either side of the border. But the reported crowd of 18,091 at B.C. Place Stadium is the third this season under 20,000, a figure once seen as, well, rock-bottom but now considered the norm. The stadium looks every bit as empty as when the late, great Bob Ackles so famously first viewed for himself in 2002 when he witnessed the scope of the rebuilding process he successfully undertook. If form holds through the final three home dates, the Lions will have their worst season at the gate since 1998, with little sign of hope until the absentee ownership of David Braley comes to an end.

Some fight left: Perhaps the most telling sign about a team is how they respond after a loss, and if there was any hopeful sign for the Lions it was their reaction immediately after what took place.

Jeremiah Johnson didn’t even have time to catch his breath after he tried to dodge the entire Hamilton defence on the final play of the game Friday when it seemed evident that if every one of his teammates had similar resolve the Lions might indeed pull out of their funk.

The B.C. tailback screamed his response when asked if his team could benefit from the upcoming bye week.

“We don’t need a bye week,” bellowed Johnson, who led his team with 17 touches but none inside the red zone. “I got to stay working at my craft. I got to work on breaking guys at the end of the run. I got to work on stiff-arming guys; on being a beast. I fumbled today. I’m a great player but I got to show it.”

Minutes later, as reality began to take hold after a loss to the team with the worst record in the CFL, more reflection and a different approach to time off.

“Luckily we have a bye week. Hopefully guys don’t just go home and do nothing. I hope all of our minds are on football,” receiver Bryan Burnham said. “We don’t have time to waste.We owe it ourselves and the fans to be better. It’s embarrassing.” Burnham’s words were a picture of what rock-bottom might sound like.

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.