VANCOUVER — Two teams will be looking for some positive results on Monday, as the BC Lions host a new-look Winnipeg Blue Bombers squad at BC Place to cap off Week 6 in the CFL.
With both teams coming off rough losses a week ago, each will take a different approach in trying to win on Monday.
The Bombers may have injected a little extra life into their fan base and locker-room after naming gunslinger Justin Goltz as their starter for the rest of the season over veteran Buck Pierce.
The Lions, meanwhile, as a team that likely already holds the necessary chips to make a deep run in November, are more focused on correcting the minor mistakes that led to an unforeseen 38-12 loss to Zach Collaros and the Toronto Argonauts one week ago.
Adversity may seem like a strange way to describe what the Lions are going through – especially for a team that sits in the top half of the league – but with such high expectations this season, they know that a repeat of last week’s performance simply cannot happen.
As defensive back Korey Banks points out, however, better for it to happen at the beginning of August than in mid-November.
“Absolutely, because if you don’t go through any adversity at the beginning of the season or before the end of the season, then the first time you go through it may be in the playoffs and you know what happens after that,” Banks, one of several veteran leaders in the room, told BCLions.com.
“We’re a battle-tested team, we’re going to go through adversity all year – as long as we’re on the other side of the wins, most of them, we’ll be alright.”
It wasn’t that the Lions lost, but how they lost that’s caught everyone’s attention. Costly turnovers, a lack of red zone efficiency, and poor field position throughout the night were the difference in a game the Lions should have and likely could have won.
“When you have four or five red zone opportunities like we did a week ago and we couldn’t come away with touchdowns, that’s where we need to be better,” quarterback Travis Lulay told the team’s official website.
Four times, to be exact, the Lions were inside the Argos’ 20-yard-line, but were forced to settle for field goals each time. Meanwhile, it seemed the Boatmen were able to take advantage with touchdowns every time they came near, despite facing the league’s number on defence.
That was really the only way to describe a game where both offences moved the ball equally, with BC actually outgaining the Argos in yards, 378 to 333, and also finishing virtually even in first downs, time of possession, and sacks allowed.
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“We did have opportunities in that game, we had opportunities earlier in that football game that we didn’t take advantage of and Toronto did, and that’s ultimately the difference,” continued Lulay.
On top of their red zone struggles, BC committed five turnovers in the game, with four coming on the final four possessions of the game. Those kinds of things are uncharacteristic for one of the league’s most disciplined teams, and it’s something fans hope were an anomaly.
“We did a lot of good things in the game last week but we need to cut out the mistakes that are keeping us from being very good.”
That’s exactly what second-year head coach Mike Benevides is looking focus on, as the Lions put last Tuesday’s loss behind them and focus on the next task at hand: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“Credit to that team and as I told the guys, let’s move onto the next one and we’re going to have our hands full, just because of the short week, the unknowns, some new talent, some new jersey numbers out there,” said Benevides, who was a candidate for Coach of the Year in his rookie season.
“Certainly we need to play our brand of football and if we do we should be fine.”
Much like the Lions, Winnipeg won’t be in a pleasant mood either, coming in with a different look under centre and a fresh new identity.
Bombers’ head coach Tim Burke said the team lining up in Blue and Gold this weekend is not the same one that was seen through the first month of the season, and that’s something the Lions are wary of.
“I expect a spirited effort from these guys,” started Lulay on this week’s opponent. “I think those guys probably feel like they got stung a little bit over the last couple of weeks, so you probably expect a few different wrinkles from them – you expect these guys to be spirited and get back on their feet and do what they do best.”
Benevides agreed that the Bombers will be just as keen on bouncing back as the Lions, and Monday’s contest should be a duel between two grumpy teams.
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“I know the Bombers are going to be in the same mind-set, both teams are angry and looking for a win and it should be an outstanding ball game,” he said.
The Bombers, meanwhile, hit the road well-rested and ready to put their new identity to the test, set to play their first game since a 37-24 home loss to the Calgary Stampeders back on July 26th.
In his first career start, Goltz threw for 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a losing effort, doing enough to earn him the nod as the team’s starter for the rest of the season in the eyes of Burke and the Bombers’ coaching staff.
“I’ll just say this, I think Justin gives us a great chance to win as he develops,” said Burke, who had to make a difficult decision in demoting an emotional leader such as Pierce. “This is a decision that we had to make recently, it became a continuity thing and Justin had a chance to show what he can do in a game and I think he showed that he’s improved a lot from a year ago.”
“He’s got a lot of upside potential and hopefully he can lead us to some victories.”
This season marked Pierce’s fourth with the team, and each year he came in as the starter but was forced to miss time due to injury. The only exception to that was in 2011, when Pierce guided the Bombers to an appearance in the 99th Grey Cup.
With Pierce struggling to stay in the lineup and Goltz showing significant improvement, the time had arrived for a facelift.
“We just feel like he’s performing right around the same level, maybe just slightly better than Buck’s performing, and we feel like he’s got a lot of upside potential,” Burke told BlueBombers.com. “I think he’s really gotten a lot better over the last five weeks plus training camp, and just the need for continuity, week in week out hopefully we can have a quarterback who’s there every week.”
“It’s hard when you don’t have that continuity – when you have a different quarterback every so often.”
Goltz, meanwhile, fits the prototypical mold of what a quarterback should be, standing at six-foot-five, 217 pounds with the ability to run and throw the deep ball.
He’s been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and while technically his first start came last weekend, he’ll still be carrying on his shoulders the excitement of now being confirmed the team’s starter for the foreseeable future.
“I feel well-prepared, I feel like I’ve done all that I can each and every day to come out here and be the best player that I can be. So the time has to be now, there is no choice, there is no time to make excuses, there’s no time to look back and say ‘what if’, so I’ve got to take it and run with it and I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Just like with Pierce and any other quarterback who’s played in this league, Goltz will be judged by his ability to manufacture victories. His clean slate ends this week, as his record will either go to 0-2 as a starter, or 1-1.
“Wins and losses are going to judge a lot of peoples’ jobs on this team, I think there’s a lot of growth that we still have to show as a team – there are a lot of little things that we need to come together and fix,” said Goltz.
“I think it’s unfair to pin that all on one person and I think everybody knows that, but at the same time at the end of the day wins and losses are what matters and that’s what we’ll be judged on.”
The Bombers will also have key players returning from the injured list this week, as wide receiver Chris Matthews joins the offence and both Desia Dunn and Jeremy McGee return to the defence.
Kickoff is at 7:00 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
– With files from BlueBombers.com/BCLions.com