Henry Burris said he was embarrassed to show his face around Hamilton this week.
The veteran quarterback's sentiment is a common one among Tiger-Cats players, after they followed up a 51-8 drumming of the Edmonton Eskimos two weeks ago with a startling 34-12 road loss to the CFL-worst Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Burris and company can't make sense of the inconsistency that has plagued them. Yet, with six games left to chase down a playoff spot, the quarterback says that ugly feeling is fuelling a fire.
"For us to go out there and drop the ball the way we did, and have an undisciplined performance like that, it was a gut-check. It's hard for me to talk about it, because I can't believe we showed up like that," Burris said. "I like our chances when we feel this way, because we're out to redeem ourselves."
The Ticats (4-8) sit two games behind the second-place Toronto Argonauts (6-6) in the East Division, with the first-place Montreal Alouettes (8-4) visiting Steeltown on Friday.
To get into the playoffs, the Ticats must avoid being edged out by a West team in the standings cross-over. (Currently, the 5-7 Edmonton Eskimos hold the third seed in the East.)
Stacked with weapons, the preseason buzz around the Ticats ignited the imagination with visions of long-time CFL star Burris creating sparks with receiver Andy Fantuz, the prize catch of free agency. New head coach George Cortez was expected to bring in an exciting offence and countless memorable moments in the last season at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
Instead, a promising three-game win streak was followed by an agonizing five-game losing skid. The Ticats are the CFL's worst team in the giveaways/takeaways, yet they lead in points scored (360).
Glimpses of thrilling offensive cohesion have been quickly replaced with banter over missed challenge flags, lost leads and dropped balls.
"We have a lot of new pieces here and it has taken a while for us to get in synch," said Fantuz, who has 41 catches for 580 yards and four touchdowns. "But we have a chance to be where we want to be at the end of the season. As long as we make the playoffs and get hot, anything can happen."
When questioned about his productivity this season, Fantuz admits he has missed some plays, but also points out that Hamilton's offence favours spreading the ball around. He also stands up for the play of his quarterback, who has completed 245 passes for 3,520 yards, good for second in the league behind Anthony Calvillo of Montreal. Burris leads the CFL with 27 touchdown passes.
"I think Henry is having a good season, but we just have to be more consistent as a whole on offence," Fantuz said. "We're not upset about the way the two of us have connected. We missed a few plays of course, and those alone could have made a whole different story statistically."
Receivers coach Jeremaine Copeland has noticed big strides in Fantuz recently, particularly in his chemistry with Burris. The coach urged him to be more vocal on the field, and it is rubbing off on all the receivers.
"By the end of the this year, he'll be the perfect wideout I want leading this group," Copeland said. "I think last year in Saskatchewan, he didn't seem the same to me, but right now, I think he's back to the same 'Tuz who once led the league. In this offence, the ball is spread around, so he's not going to get 100 passes his way, but I think he's going to be a big factor in the last six games."
The Ticats are also expected to use a running back tandem of Avon Cobourne and Chevon Walker this week.
"We have six games left, and regardless of the struggles we've had and the adversity we've dealt with, we're just one game out of a playoff spot," Burris said. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."