Although many argue there are no moral victories in football, it’s hard to not come away with some sort of a positive feeling following the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 36-34 loss to Calgary Stampeders, which dropped them to 8-5 and ended their seven-game win streak.
The loss, of course, was still gut-wrenching. But looking at the greater picture, it’s clear the Bombers passed the test, proving they could go punch-for-punch with the CFL’s measuring-stick franchise in their own barn. It took a last second, game-winning field goal from the Stampeders to hold off the Bombers from completing a 24-point comeback. This Bombers team isn’t having a repeat first half if these two teams meet again in the playoffs – all bets are off.
11 other thoughts on the Bombers’ loss.
1. Stamps’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had some strong words directed to the Bombers in his halftime interview that, while a juicy quote from the CFL’s most marketable player, says a lot about what most pundits thought about the Bombers’ legitimacy despite a seven-game winning streak. “[Winnipeg’s] finding out who they are right now, and we’re going to continue to show them,” Mitchell told TSN’s Farhan Lalji while his team lead 27-7 at the break. Despite ultimately falling short, the Bombers’ second-half proved to Mitchell and the league that this team’s for real.
2. After a terrible first half where he looked very uncomfortable in the pocket with noticeable happy-feet – that of which caused evident accuracy issues – Matt Nichols settled down nicely in the second half. Simply put, he stopped trying to force throws into nine-man coverage and began to play his game, simply settling for what the defense gave him and identifying it early. The Bombers had some momentum after a great throw and catch from Nichols to Clarence Denmark for a 10-yard touchdown connection in the middle of the third quarter, but the comeback officially felt legitimate after Ryan Smith went up and fought for a ridiculous 40-yard catch over Stamps’ corner Tommie Campbell. That catch may have been the turning-point.
3. The first half felt all too familiar for Bombers’ fans that have seen Calgary route the Blue & Gold twice already this season, obviously sparking Mitchell’s choice words at half-time. The Bombers’ defensive backs couldn’t cover air, and the pass-rush seemed non-existent as Mitchell dissected the defense. While all aspects of the defense tightened up in the second half, a large amount of the credit should go to the offense for grabbing the momentum from the Stamps and pressuring Dave Dickenson into some much more conservative play-calls on offense in the second half.
4. In his first full season as the Bombers’ special-teams coordinator, Mike O’Shea’s unit has played sound football for most of the season. While they began to shake and stutter in back-to-back games against Saskatchewan, the wheels that drove the Bombers’ special-teams completely fell off in Calgary. Stamps’ returner Roy Finch averaged 34.2 yards-per-return on kickoffs and 11.5 yards-per-return on punt returns, as the Stamps only ever had to drive half the field for the entire first half. The Bombers don’t need to score 27 points in the second half if their special-teams aren’t a garbage fire for the opening 40 minutes.
5. I don’t know if anyone loves playing Winnipeg more than Stamps’ pass-catcher Marquay McDaniel. The 32-year-old often-underappreciated veteran has 28 catches for 442 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games against the Bombers’ secondary, dating back to week 15 last season. While several point to Maurice Leggett’s struggles against McDaniel, I think no. 16 has victimized a fairly vast amount of Blue Bomber defensive backs nearly equally in the last four contests.
6. The Stamps’ offense has always been very confident in their match-ups against the Bombers. We’ve heard it in half-time interviews and more – both Mitchell and McDaniel have been quoted in the past for saying “they’re giving us man-coverage and they can’t cover us one-on-one” – and it’s true. I’d be extremely hard-pressed to find another defense that’s called nearly as much man-coverage as Blue Bombers’ defensive coordinator Richie Hall in the last five weeks or so, and the Stamps are the first team since the secondary broke out to really exploit this risky play-calling. In fact, Hall and Co. have typically always given Mitchell’s receivers man-coverage in previous games in hopes of pressuring the young passer with some exotic blitz packages. With McDaniel’s route-running and Mitchell’s anticipation, Hall is going to have to re-evaluate his approach to stopping the Stamps in future games.
7. Though I’d have disagreed, it was fair to question the Bombers’ legitimacy of being contenders prior to this game. That debate, however, is now over. A non-contending team doesn’t bounce back from being down 23 points in the third quarter to come within a 52-yard field goal from knocking off the Stampeders at home. Having taken care of the teams that they’re supposed to beat on a seven-game winning streak, the Bombers proved they could hang with Calgary. This team is for real.
8. This game featured two of the 2016 CFL draft’s shining stars in Stamps’ linebacker Alex Singleton and Bombers’ free safety Taylor Loffler, both of whom have emerged into solid starters in their rookie seasons. Though I’ve yet to do a comprehensive review of the Bombers’ defensive assignments in their secondary, it would certainly seem as though Singleton out-shone Loffler tonight.
9. For whatever reason – questions about his ability to have an impact on special-teams could’ve been one – second-year Canadian receiver Lemar Durant fell to the bottom of the second round during the 2015 draft despite being one of the most naturally gifted players available. Kyle Walters was one of eight general managers to foolishly pass on Durant, though he actually passed on Durant for another receiver in Addison Richards. As Richards’ young, injury-riddled career remains a disappointment, Durant continues to show Walters he made a huge mistake in the 2015 draft. The Simon Fraser product, who finished the match with four catches for 76 yards and a score, was the one who recorded the 22-yard reception in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter that set up Rene Parades’ game-winning kick. That hurt.
10. With Richards not even pushing for playing time despite Rory Kohlert proving he’s no longer a starting-caliber receiver, the Bombers will look to draft a receiver early in the 2017 draft. Meanwhile, Regina Rams’ receiver Mitchell Picton is lighting up the Canada West with seven touchdowns in four games. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder would be nice compensation for the Riders drafting Nic Demski in the 2015 draft as well.
11. With the Eskimos knocking off the Lions last night in a crucial West Division match-up, the Bombers are now one game back of BC for second place in the West and four points up on Edmonton for third. Of course, the Bombers’ next three games are against Edmonton and a home-and-home with BC. The playoff picture is about to clear up real fast.