VANCOUVER - Tim Burke had vowed that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would be better — and they were.
But the Bombers were still not good enough as they bowed 27-20 to the B.C. Lions at B.C. Place Stadium. Winnipeg (1-5) suffered its fourth straight loss and will be hard-pressed to get back into the CFL's Eastern Conference playoff race following a bye week.
"We're disappointed with the loss," said Burke. "But I feel encouraged. I thought we got a lot better as a team today. B.C.'s a good football team, and any time you come here and play down to the wire, I think you've had a good game."
Burke had vowed a day earlier that his team would be improved because of injured players returning. But many observers were left wondering what would have happened if Burke had not decided to have punter Mike Renaud concede a safety in the fourth quarter.
The decision effectively broke a 17-17 tie and gave the Lions the lead for good. After handing the Lions a 19-17 advantage, Renaud kicked off and B.C. returner Tim Brown gave the hosts good field position.
Burke had hoped that his club's defence would hold the Lions and the Bombers would get good field position of their own. But the Lions progressed with little difficulty and quarterback Travis Lulay hit Courtney Taylor for an 11-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the difference as B.C. improved its record to 4-2 while atoning for a loss to Toronto last week.
"We just had to take a chance that we could gain some field position," said Burke. "It's just one of those things."
A Paul McCallum punt had pinned Winnipeg to its one-yard line and the Bombers only got to their five on their first two downs before Burke opted for the safety. The call came after he had elected to punt earlier in the fourth quarter from their 10-yard line.
But Burke, whose job security might be in question following the loss, said he had no second thoughts about giving up the two points. He noted it would not have taken much for B.C. to get good field position if the Bombers had punted instead.
"I got criticized for not taking a safety earlier in the year," he said. "I guess I can get criticized for not taking a safety this time."
Meanwhile, he was critical of receivers for not helping quarterback Justin Goltz more often. Goltz, playing his first game as Winnipeg's official starter after displacing Buck Pierce last week, completed 13 of 28 passes for a modest 112 yards and one interception.
Burke said Goltz missed some defensive reads, but his receivers also squandered opportunities.
"Our receivers have got to help him out," said Burke. "A couple of times, we had some dropped balls in key situations — one that would have got us out of the shadow of their goalposts, and another that would have got us a first down in their red zone, or at least the fringe of the red zone.
"Those are two key plays right there."
But Burke was encouraged by his club's defensive effort. The Bombers held the Lions scoreless in the third quarter although B.C. had decent field position on most occasions.
"We were hanging in there," said Burke. "But sooner or later, you can't stop a good team from scoring if they get great field position — and they finally did."