Can a team hit rock bottom twice in one season?
That appears to be the case with the Saskatchewan Roughriders who, according to "new" head coach Ken Miller, hit rock bottom on August 18 in Toronto with a 24-18 loss to the Argos which dropped their record to a league-worst 1-7. That prompted the firings of head coach Greg Marshall and offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry with Miller replacing them both with himself. In their next game, the Riders routed Winnipeg 27-7 in the Labour Day Classic after which Miller said "we've hit rock bottom and bounced back up."
Things were clicking along tickety-boo for the Green Giants in the weeks afterwards as they followed up the Labour Day victory with a 45-23 win at Winnipeg and a 30-20 home triumph over the Argos. At 4-7, things were lining up nicely for a run to the playoffs as the Riders hosted 5-6 B.C. this past Saturday, and a fourth straight victory would pull them even with the Lions for third in the West.
But disaster struck. At least, disaster as it pertains to football, as the Riders got absolutely pulverized 42-5 by their western rivals. It was Saskatchewan's most lopsided loss of the season and possibly their most woeful effort as well. The Lions built up a 30-0 lead in the second quarter and were allowed to put it on cruise control the rest of the way.
Rock bottom? Again? Perhaps.
"We got beat in every area," huffed Rider lineman Gene Makowsky. "Turnovers, 2-and-outs. You won't beat many teams doing that. It just didn't go our way. We tried and it didn't work. It was going upfield both ways. It feels like the end of the world but we'll come back ready tomorrow."
It was a devastating blow to the Riders' playoff chances ... absolutely devastating. The victory for the Lions not only moved them four points up on the Riders for the final playoff spot, but it also clinched the season series for the Lions. This means the Riders have to overtake B.C. to make the playoffs in the West because ending up tied with them won't do any good.
But what gives? An 18th consecutive sell-out crowd at Mosaic Stadium showed up for what they felt was a must-win game, and expected their team to play like it was. The Rider Nation did its part. However, what they saw was an unacceptable performance by an offence which committed six turnovers to B.C.'s none. They saw a team that took a-whopping 16 penalties for 145 yards including a first half ejection of Rider cornerback Nick Graham.
"It is a disappointing loss and really we lost our discipline out there today," Miller said. "We didn't play with emotion, enthusiasm and effort which hasn't been our characteristic lately. We have to play a more disciplined game."
No kidding. The 1-7 start to the season provided a razor-thin margin for error the rest of the way. Miller's crew is 3-1 since his return with six games remaining in the regular season. Predicting how many wins it will take to make the playoffs is a waste of time if the club doesn't take care of business on a weekly basis. They are very close to having to run the table which very rarely ever happens - although it has.
"We can't stub our toe again the rest of the way," Miller advised after Saturday's game.
They can't shoot themselves in the foot again either. Those feet are taking a beating in 2011.
(Rod Pedersen is the voice of the Riders on CKRM radio)