What do you say to your players after that?

It's the question Essendon coach John Worsfold was forced to consider on Saturday night after his side's bitterly disappointing loss to the Western Bulldogs at Marvel Stadium.

After kicking the game's first goal less than 20 seconds into the contest, the Bombers conceded 21 straight majors to fall to one of their most dismal defeats in recent memory.


The 104-point loss is a bitter body blow on the eve of finals. And with not much time to turn the tide, Worsfold had to carefully consider the words he conveyed post-game.

"The message to the players is that we deserve all the criticism we get for what we dished up tonight, but that's not who we are," Worsfold told reporters after the match.

"Don't put your head down and think that when people rip into you for how you played tonight, that that is who you are.

"These guys have represented Essendon brilliantly for a big part of this year so far and they've had some wonderful wins. We've had a poor loss.

"We'll cop the criticism for tonight's effort, but we'll focus on where we want to get to as a team."

For large parts of Saturday night's contest, Essendon's effort – or lack thereof – was simply inexplicable. At least that's what Worsfold thought from the Bombers' bench.

Essendon had 125 fewer disposals than the Western Bulldogs, 36 fewer contested possessions and lost the inside-50 count by 29. Then there was the scoreboard.

"It's pretty hard (to explain)," Worsfold said.

"It's obviously very frustrating and very disappointing.

"It's not the first time that's happened in the history of the game and it won't be the last. No team is immune from them these days. I've been part of them myself before and I've seen other teams go through it, but it's hard to explain.

"That's not who we are, we understand that. We're not that far behind the Western Bulldogs, but we were tonight. We have to wear that and be disappointed by it. But we won't mope around, because we've got work to do."

Essendon simply couldn't get its hands on the footy. That, in turn, brutally exposed its defenders, who just couldn't repel the endless flurry of Bulldog attacks.

When they did eventually win the footy, on those few rare occasions, the Bombers then butchered the ball, leaving their forward line with very little to work with.

So, with gaping holes appearing in nearly every phase of his side's game, what was most disappointing? And what does Worsfold want to see going forward?

"Losing by that margin is disappointing," he said.

"But what I want to see is how we respond to it and what we learn from it. Why did we lose by that much? What happened? Who are we? What do we want to stand for? What have we been working towards?

"I know this playing group shows great effort. They showed great grit through enormous adversity over a number of weeks – and that was only three or four weeks ago.

"But we've hit a flat spot, which often teams go through over the course of a long and hard season. We get the opportunity to play next week and to try to play the type of footy we can play."

A run of 21 straight Western Bulldogs goals spanning nearly two hours on Saturday night was the second-most successive majors kicked in an AFL game this century.

At times, it left the Bombers coach scratching his head. At other stages, it left him wondering whether he could engineer a dramatic September turnaround.

"There's no doubt at times tonight you think this is a brutal game and it's not the most fun," Worsfold said.

"But I've been there before and I've taken teams through that and learnt from it. They've become great teams. I'm more than comfortable that I've done it before and I know how to do it. We'll do it again."