Lions succumb to more self-inflicted wounds

Nail, meet coffin.

There will be words from the remaining believers in the locker room about the playoff prospects of the B.C. Lions in the four regular season games that lie ahead. There will be suggestions all is not lost until their mathematical chances are exhausted.

But if an embarrassing loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their previous game at B.C. Place Stadium didn’t prove to those who still follow this CFL club the sheer enormity of the spadework which lies ahead for the 6-8 Lions, blowing a 19-point lead and dropping a 30-25 decision to the Ottawa Redblacks will surely do the deed.

B.C.’s loss, coupled with a 27-24 win by the Saskatchewan Roughriders over the Toronto Argonauts earlier Saturday, left the Lions effectively needing at least five points of the eight still available to them in order to overcome one tie-breaker deficit.

It’ll be the same situation facing the Lions if the Edmonton Eskimos dispose of the Montreal Alouettes Monday. A 20-year run of post-season appearances by the Lions is about to come to an end. There’s no sense hiding the obvious any longer.

What remains is a series of decisions which surely must happen in order for faith in the Lions to be restored. It starts at the very top of the organization. With every passing week, the value of the franchise owned by David Braley continues to drop. With every humiliating setback on the field, the calls for coach/GM Wally Buono to step aside become louder; the realization on the part of assistant coaches, personnel staffers and players that massive organizational change is forthcoming becomes more clear.

The regrettable truth is that after two Grey Cup wins in 15 seasons under the winningest coach in league history, the Lions are same place as they were when Buono arrived after the 2002 season, the building where they play home games seemingly empty on a regular basis just as it was when Adam Rita was in charge and Damon Allen’s run had come to an end.

But the late, great Bob Ackles isn’t around to rescue Braley this time. Sadly, a golden era is coming to the end of its life cycle. The only question is whether the absentee owner knows it’s time, because the look on the face of the coach/GM after the game made it seem as if he knows what must be done.

Other points seen and noted:

Go figure: The signature play of this implosion wasn’t either of the Ottawa touchdowns in which Anthony Gaitor and T.J. Lee were were responsible for allowing big gains during a six-minute stretch in the second half. It wasn’t the lost Lions challenge a play prior to one of the majors, or a lost fumble by Bryan Burnham with the Lions up 25-6 in the third quarter.

No, it was the brain-dead decision by Chris Rainey to field a punt at his own three-yard line instead of gaining field position by surrendering a single that started the Lions to their inexorable march to oblivion.

Rainey knew he blew it even before Buono chewed him out on the sideline, but it was too late.

“He told me (to let the ball go into the end zone),” said Rainey. “I just got to get it out of my head.” Rainey’s understanding is one reason, according to some around the club, why he doesn’t get more involvement in the offence and making a mistake on special teams that cost the Lions valuable field position this time served to illustrate the point.

Mistakes aplenty: Another fatal characteristic of this year’s Lions is an inability to get a stop on defence when it was needed the most. B.C. was still in control despite the Burnham fumble, and a clear drop in the end zone of a sure touchdown by Chris Williams. Despite being victimized again on yet another onside kick, the Lions still led 25-19 with a quarter to go.

Again, however, with a chance to back up suggestions made before the game that he would get the ball when it counts, Jeremiah Johnson was made to look invisible. Johnson didn’t have a single carry in the fourth quarter and was targeted on only one pass attempt in the final 15 minutes.

Buono said in the days leading up to the game that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly expecting different results, and changed the team’s practice regimen. Ignoring their best offensive weapon with a lead down the stretch looked awfully familiar.

“That was a heartbreaking loss,” said Solomon Elimimian, whose 13 tackles to give him the league tackle lead was the lone bright spot for B.C., save for the four-catch, 93-yard receiving effort of Shaquille Johnson.

“We gave up plays we should have. That game was there for the taking and when it came to critical times we didn’t execute. We have to shore things up and not give up big plays and that’s been our Achilles heel. We talk about it but we gave up a bunch of big plays again.

“All we got is us. That’s the motto. It’s gonna hurt and it’s supposed to hurt but we’re going to use it (to help) in the next game.”

As epitaph options go, there’s plenty that could go on the tombstone once the coffin that is this sad Lions season is eventually buried.



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