October 1, 2019

Bombers hit reset following back to back losses

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

This isn’t where the Winnipeg Blue Bombers wanted to be in late September, not after a 5-0 start to the regular season and a 9-3 record at the two-thirds mark.

But there they were late Friday night respectfully tipping their hat to the opponent after they were spanked 33-13 by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at IG Field, and then cursing their own mistakes and their own inconsistencies.

“We got our asses kicked,” began veteran guard Pat Neufeld. “They just played a helluva game. They played physical. They executed, they stopped things that we were good at and we couldn’t find a rhythm and things we knew we had to be on top of, we just didn’t do a good enough job. All the credit to them, they played a great game.

“But we’ve got to find a way to look inside and get better and make sure we’re holding each other accountable by doing the right things going forward.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver Lucky Whitehead runs a route against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

And one more along the same lines from Nic Demski:

“I’m trying to think of the nicest way possible for me to say it: we got our butts kicked. We had flushed last week and this was a whole new game. We moved on, but the mental mistakes might be continuing.

“We were just out there and it was pretty obvious one team wanted it more than the other. We’ve got to find it ourselves again and figure out what we need to do to put ourselves in better situations to win games.”

That’s a telling statement, especially when it comes from within the locker room. Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea also said afterward “that was a tough team and we didn’t play them tough enough, especially in the first half.”

The Bombers now have four regular-season games remaining before the playoffs: next Saturday in Regina against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, home to the Montreal Alouettes and then the home-and-home series with the Calgary Stampeders to end their regular season. Winnipeg then has their final bye in the last week of the schedule before the Grey Cup derby begins.

FRIDAY NIGHT WAS UNLIKE THE LOSS IN MONTREAL… which featured both the best and the worst of the Bombers this season, the Labour Day Classic defeat in which they club couldn’t protect a one-point lead late in the game, or the setback in Toronto in which they spit up a 20-point advantage.

But it was very similar to the Bombers’ loss in Hamilton in late July, a game in which Matt Nichols was intercepted three times and the Ticats defence stymied Winnipeg’s offence. And in that game, as was the case Friday, the Bombers had difficulty with Hamilton’s lickedy-split receiving corps – especially before Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli was lost for the season with a knee injury.

In the most recent loss, Ticats pivot Dane Evans had 308 yards passing at the intermission, having completed 17 of 21 passes including dreaded explosion plays of 44, 41 and 52 yards.

“They made some plays early,” said Bombers safety Jeff Hecht. “They had some stuff drawn up and I got routed-up pretty good on one deep ball where they ran a little diagonal corner-post-corner and I gave it up to them and can’t give up big plays like that. They had a good gameplan. They’ve got some dynamic players on offence and in the first half Evans seemed to play his best half of the year. He was seeing the field and doing a good job buying extra time. It’s the first time of the year we really got ‘beat’ beat and it sucks. They’re a good-ass football team.

“If you make a mistake at the same time they’re trying to attack, bad things happen – especially in the secondary. I made a mistake and they exposed it. Limiting our mistakes and limiting my mistakes… if they want to make that play and I’m in the right position, the play is no longer available. We’ve got to get over this one quick because the CFL is a quick turnaround and we’ve got a few games left here that are just as important as this one. Losing sucks, no matter what.

“We’ve got to be a little more sound, but you can’t take anything away from them. They’re running away in the East for a reason.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Jeff Hecht fires up the crowd during player introductions (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

THE BOMBERS DID MAKE SOME ADJUSTMENTS AT HALFTIME… as Evans only had 51 yards passing in the second half, but with the offence struggling to stay on the field and also turning the ball over after an Adam Bighill interception offered a last glimpse at hope, there would be no valiant comeback.

“We had a slow start and then were clawing our way to get back into it,” said Bombers cornerback Chandler Fenner. “In the second half, we made some adjustments and were stalling them out, got some two and outs, got a turnover. It was the slow start because we did make the right adjustments and really slowed them down in the second half.

“We just need to be more effective from the beginning of the game. They started fast and that was critical for them.”

Fenner was then asked about the critical next steps for this team in the days ahead.

“It’s about playing confident and being aggressive,” he said. “We’re right in the thick of things right now and so we’ve got to come together as a team, bond together and do the positive things to help us win. I think there were a lot of positives in that second half and we can move forward with that.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill returns an interception against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

THE 300-YARD PASSING GAME = SUCCESS ARGUMENT… lost some traction Friday night. Chris Streveler finished the night 31 of 42 for 304 yards with one TD and two interceptions. The 304 represented his highest yardage total as a pro and was the first 300-yard passing game since Matt Nichols threw for 358 in a win over Calgary last October.

But 80 of those yards came on the Bombers’ last possession, which began with 1:49 left and 145 of the passing yards came after the Ticats had built their 33-13 lead.

Kenny Lawler was at the end of a lot of those late throws from Streveler and he finished with his best numbers as a pro with 10 catches for 144 yards.

“Throw that out the window,” Lawler said afterward. “All I care about is winning and getting it for my teammates and my brothers out there fighting with me. Without the win, those catches and yards don’t sit well with me.

“I’d rather have the ‘W’ with no catches.”

THE GAME WAS THE FIRST SINCE… last Thursday’s announcement that Nichols had undergone season-ending shoulder surgery. O’Shea spoke with CJOB on the pre-game show about the Bombers’ QB depth chart and said the club would not be adding a veteran pivot for the stretch run. That means that should Streveler get dinged, the team would turn to Sean McGuire, who was impressive in the preseason but has not thrown a pass since the real games began.

Winnipeg’s third-string QB is Trevor Knight, a University of New Hampshire product who was just added to the practice roster this week.

“We’re good,” O’Shea told CJOB. “We like what Sean McGuire does in practice, we like what he does in games. If we get in a situation where we get him on the field and we can get him some meaningful snaps we will, but it’s tough to get him into those situations.”

The Bombers loved the leadership and experience Nichols brought to the huddle, but do have faith in Streveler.

“He’s dynamic, for sure, and he opens up a lot of things for us offensively,” said Neufeld. “We’ve just got to execute. We can all draw up all the perfect plays in the world, but if we can’t execute them, there’s no point in doing them. We’ve got to make sure we’re locked in and executing.”

“Chris is just fine,” added Lawler. “He’s throwing the ball good, he’s running the ball good. Once again, we’ve got to get into the film room and correct our mistakes to be more consistent as an offensive unit.”