The Saskatchewan Roughriders are in a lot of trouble as the stretch drive for the 2013 Canadian Football season officially begins.
With other teams tuning up for the playoffs, the once mighty Green & White have fallen from the upper echelon of the league to a team doing a lot of soul-searching and looking for answers at a critical time.
Sunday's 17-12 loss in Montreal was the team's fourth consecutive defeat and they find themselves all alone in third-place in the CFL West. Less than a month ago the Riders' 8-1 record was the best in the league - and the franchise's best start in 103 years - but now at 8-5 there are three better clubs in the loop.
Your record is what you are, and right now the Riders are treading water in the deep end.
The biggest reason for the slide? The answer is fairly simple; when tailback Kory Sheets went out with a knee injury in Week 12, the offense went into hiding. The sophomore accounted for 31% of Saskatchewan's offense through the opening nine games, the most for any running back or receiver this year. Without him, the team appears lost.
Add in injuries to offensive linemen Chris Best and Ben Heenan and the current tailspin is explainable. However unfortunately it's not acceptable for a team whose sights were set on finishing in first-place in the West and playing in the Grey Cup in November.
The first goal seems remote now but the second is certainly achievable. The road is just a bit longer now. What the Riders need right now is time, but they're not going to get it because the schedule stops for nobody.
"It's one of those things, we gotta get healthy on the o-line and get continuity there," Rider coach Corey Chamblin said after the loss in Montreal. "We have musical chairs on the o-line but we have to come back and play better ball."
If Chamblin knows the way out of this, he's not saying. For each of the past four weeks he's surmised that the club needs to play better. However they haven't.
"I don't know," said Rider Radio analyst Carm Carteri when asked on our postgame show what's happened to this club. "We're all trying to figure that out. Was it the Dewdney Incident? They won after that went down. That was kept pretty quiet for three weeks so I can't say that. No, the bad penalties and the turnovers are hurting this team. And they're not scoring when they need to score."
The penalties and turnovers should be correctable. Historically they have been, although they've haunted this team for the past month and counting. As for the scoring, the return of Sheets would help remedy that but at this point we don't know when he'll be back on the field.
"You have a guy like that who's playing at a high level," Chamblin said on the weekend when discussing the club's woes without the league's top rusher. "It doesn't matter who you sub in there, no one's going to be able to get to the level he was playing at. Even himself when he comes back, it will be a climb for him but we started with Kory and you just have to weather the storm (without him)."
In the meantime the pressure ramps up to an almost intolerable level here in the Wheat Province. People are fleeing the bandwagon in droves and Chamblin has noticed.
"It's amazing that you say that," Chamblin smiled when asked about it on Saturday. "I told Darian the other day that I always hear the negative part of the fans but when we're out and about, I never see those fans, for the most part. It's not us against the fans. Our fans are our fans and our critics are our critics. We just have to make sure that just because they have the same colour of clothes on, we don't call them fans."
(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)