Bombers clinch home playoff game in regular season finale (& 11 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night by a score of 23-5 in front of 24,281 fans at McMahon Stadium. Below are my thoughts on the game.

1. I declared Andrew Harris’ regular season over in last week’s post-game piece, a statement that proved to be premature. Though I would have liked to see the Bombers keep the veteran running back out of Friday’s game due to the risk of further injury, Harris was arguably the best player on the field in Calgary. Recording 68 yards on just eight carries, Harris surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time as a Blue Bomber and became the CFL’s rushing leader with 1,035 yards on the season. Harris also recorded five receptions for 28 yards, setting a new single-season running back receptions record with 105. Not a bad season for the 30-year-old star.

2. Speaking of Harris, it’s time the CFL changed the way in which end-of-season player awards are distributed. I’m all for continuing with team awards, but these honours should have no impact on who is eligible to be recognized at the division or league level. Andrew Harris would probably win Most Outstanding Player in the CFL later this month if he was eligible, but losing out on his team nomination makes this impossible. The league recently made some welcome changes to the all-star ballot — perhaps a change to the awards system is on the horizon as well. In my opinion, there should be three finalists for all awards at the league level regardless of team or division. My three finalists for Most Outstanding Player this season would be Andrew Harris, Alex Singleton, and Matt Nichols. Honourable mentions go to Mike Reilly, Brandon Zylstra (who is also now ineligible for M.O.P.), and Ricky Ray.

3. Richie Hall’s defence had one of its best games of the season on Friday night, allowing just 223 yards of offence, recording seven sacks, and forcing seven turnovers. The weather undoubtedly helped slow Calgary’s attack — as, of course, did the absence of Bo Levi Mitchell — but it was still a solid performance from a unit that was desperate for a confidence boost heading into the playoffs. Full credit to Brandon Alexander, Drake Nevis, Ian Wild, Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson, and Tristan Okpalaugo, all of whom had arguably their best performances of the year.

4. The Bombers have now started three Canadian offensive linemen in two consecutive games with Patrick Neufeld filling in for an injured Travis Bond at left guard. This is likely a sign of things to come for a Winnipeg club that should look to start three national hogs next season. Neufeld, who has been excellent in place of Bond, is a pending free agent — should he leave Winnipeg this off-season, expect 2015 second round pick Michael Couture to take over his spot in the starting line-up.

5. The tweet of the night goes to Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press. Though I expect Nichols to be ready to play in next week’s West Semifinal, the health of Winnipeg’s starting quarterback will be closely monitored this week in Bomberland.

6. In a game that was heavily impacted by the weather, it’s cool to see what was written on the whiteboard in Winnipeg’s locker room prior to the game. Calgary looked deeply affected by the weather for the entire game. The Bombers? Not so much.

7. I didn’t care for the Bombers’ decision to start Dan LeFevour in Calgary on Friday night. Dominique Davis has played decently in spot duty this season (17-of-29 for 208 yards), serving as Matt Nichols’ primary back-up in seventeen straight games. Now in his third season with the Bombers, Davis is at a pivotal time in his development as a CFL quarterback. I thought starting LeFevour was a missed opportunity to allow Davis to continue his progression, getting the live game reps he desperately needs. As it turns out, the weather limited the passing game to such an extent that the identity of the starting passer was almost irrelevant. LeFevour passed for just 91 yards and rushed for 27 yards on five carries; even if Davis had fared better, I’m not sure the experience would have been all that valuable to his development.

8. Taylor Loffler has finished the 2017 regular season as the Bombers’ leading tackler with 75 takedowns. It’s a testament to both Loffler’s stellar play and the club’s defensive struggles that the rangy safety would lead the team in a statistic traditionally dominated by linebackers.

9. It was disappointing to see Andrew Buckley struggle to such an extent on Friday night. I openly root for Canadian quarterbacks — yes, even Saskatchewan’s Brandon Bridge — and I was hoping to see more from Calgary’s homegrown kid. I’m sure we’ll see more from Buckley in the future — this was just his first career start, after all — but it was an underwhelming first start, to say the least.

10. I thought Mike O’Shea was crazy for allowing Justin Medlock to try a 52-yard field goal in the second quarter of Friday’s game, particularly with the dangerous Roy Finch back to return a potential miss. Medlock nailed the kick and now made ten consecutive field goals since missing a 39-yard potential game-winner in Toronto two weeks ago.

11. The Calgary Stampeders have now lost three consecutive games for the first time since November 3, 2007 — exactly ten years prior to Friday’s loss to Winnipeg. Dave Dickenson’s team should still be the favorites to win the Grey Cup, but the Stamps look the most vulnerable they have in a long time — particularly at McMahon Stadium.

12. The Bombers have finished the 2017 regular season with a 12-6 record, the club’s best mark since 2002. The club will now officially host the West Semifinal next weekend, the team’s first home playoff game since 2011. The winner of Saturday’s game between the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders will travel to Winnipeg for the first playoff contest in the history of Investors Group Field. I threw out a poll on twitter following Friday night’s game asking Bomber fans which team they’d rather see in Winnipeg next week. Currently the poll favors the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a two-to-one ratio.

John Hodge

John Hodge

John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.
John Hodge
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John Hodge
About John Hodge (289 Articles)
John Hodge is a lifelong follower of the CFL who has been writing about the league since 2014. He is a two-time finalist of the Jon Gott lookalike contest.

30 Comments on Bombers clinch home playoff game in regular season finale (& 11 other thoughts)

  1. greenonions // November 4, 2017 at 1:32 am //

    Seriously dude, Nichols AND Harris as finalists?? No Bomber bias there. If Esks win tomorrow same # of wins for both. The Eskimos payout on injured players tops $1 MM in salaries this year. Nichols has had a healthy lineup until the last few games. Wasn’t it you, John who has mentioned how dominant the Bomber OL has been? Another Nichols advantage. Come down off the soap box.

    • Lancaster/Reed // November 4, 2017 at 1:47 am //

      I was thinking the same thing. Harris and Nichols? Reilly over nichols all day long.

      • if reily runs over nichols all day long why did nichols have the better stats to teh season, let alone beat deadmonton twice, if riely was better he would have beat nichols, buthe never has. dont be bitter cuz your team failed to host a home playoff game this year, deadmonton simply wasnt good enough.

        • Lancaster/Reed // November 4, 2017 at 10:12 am //

          Im not bitter about the riders not hosting a playoff game this season. It is only year 2 of a major rebuild , and the riders have a winning record and are in the playoffs. They have been improving all season long and i believe they have a team that can win it all this post season. Im not guaranteeing a grey cup victory, but every team in the playoffs has strengths and weaknesses, and they are all capable of winning it all, riders included.

    • nichols beat riely with ease 2 times this year stop crying about finalists, how many years did the bombers have no one in at all in a row and had better players than the opposition, almost every year.

    • DiehardFan // November 4, 2017 at 10:33 am //

      You’re right…they better give it to Reilly lest he looks back at the voting media to reconsider…similar to what he does EVERY time he gets touched in a game (even if it was legal contact) looking back at the refs for a penalty. Granted he should’ve gotten a flag on some hits he took his year but he whines for a flag every touch he gets. Thought players were supposed to be tough…I’d say get off your soapbox and take your green and yellow blinders off. Signed not a Bomber fan so I have no horse in the race

    • Reilly’s OL is still very good & look at his targets — Zylstra, Bowman, Walker, and Williams are all excellent targets. Nichols only had one top-tier target this season: Darvin Adams.

      • riderontheisland // November 4, 2017 at 2:44 pm //

        You missed Dressler and don’t forget the Esks and Reilly didn’t have running game until October. Now remove the turnover element which leans heavily to the Bombers also. That is a big deal for example the Riders aren’t sitting where they are today without the TO swing.

      • Lancaster/Reed // November 4, 2017 at 4:29 pm //

        Also ,dont forget, about 20% of Nichols passing yards were to harris, or other running backs, while Reilly threw very few passes to his backs . Swing passes and screens to running backs are a much easier throw than the downfield passes favoured by Reilly and the eskimos.

  2. No matter how you cut it, Lancaster, Reilly already has 1100 yds more thsn Nichols, is second in rushing yards for a QB, more last minute victories than anyone, tied for lesd in TD’s, most 2nd down conversions & the list goes on. Can’t agree with Hodge on this one.

    • did u forget other stats like interceptions thrown, how many games Reily cost his team vs how many Nichols has won, plus nichols hasnt lost to reily, like ever.

    • Give Nichols Reilly’s receivers and he would have scorched the CFL. Winnipeg’s receivers are a patchwork of little guys and nobody’s- perhaps the worst in the league right now without Adams. Edmonton’s are all big, strong, and have game breaking abilities.

  3. 3rd and 1 // November 4, 2017 at 7:36 am //

    Calgary not playing Bo for at least a half did Winnipeg a huge favour. As we all could see that Buckley is no where near talented enough to be a CFL QB. It’s great that as a Canadian kid he’s getting support from the Stamps. I’m not sure the Stamps are doing them self any favours. There are much better QBs out there to be their back up.
    I’m glad Winnipeg was able to get their home playoff game secured before the other all West game today. Now the EE’s and SK are playing for the exact same thing. There is no extra incentive for EDM.
    Even though there is snow in Regina. The weather will not be as cold as it was in Calgary. I believe it will be about 10 degrees warmer and should be less of a factor in the game. It’s a new stadium and no one knows what the footing will be like until the bullets start to fly.
    Either team has the ability to catch their own wave and walk away with a solid victory. Here’s hoping the crowd gets behind the Riders and they walk away with a decisive victory. The Destiny of both SK and Calgary has already been written. SK will in fact end Calgary’s season. It’s just unclear if it’s the Westvsemi or the Grey cup. After the game today we will all know. I’m thinking it’s tge West Semi that sees the Riders putting Six out to pasture until next season. Besides he’s super stiff from absolutely no TDS scored so NO sideline runs for 2 home games in a row.
    It’s going to be an early Christmas in SK. With Red & Green Christmas colours scrapping it out to represent the West in the Grey Cup.
    First there will be a barn burning hum finger of a West Semi in Winnipeg. I almost wish that Winnipeg could get to the Grey Cup through the East. As I for one don’t look forward to having to end their season in order to move on.

    • Lancaster/Reed // November 4, 2017 at 10:02 am //

      Im not about to make a call on whether buckley can be a good cfl qb or not. One full game in those conditions is not enough of a barometer to measure his abilities. One thing i do know heading into the playoffs, calgarys qb situation is the most worrisome of the 6 playoff teams. Bo levi hasnt played all that well lately, and the qb depth is next to non-existant with a bare minimum of experience there. Aside from toronto, every other playoff team has some decent cfl experience in their backup qbs.

  4. Ryan, Nichols stats aren’t better. As for wins, Nichols has the same # – 11 wins. Fact is if Nichols was playing with Reilly’s receivers, he’d still be the 3rd string QB in Edmonton. Jones realized Franklin was a better pssser & got rid of Nichols. Good for Nichols & what he’s done in the ‘Peg. But if you think he’d tear up the league with Reilly’s receivers, bin there, done dat, bye bye. Don’t blame Reilly for your small receivers. Go out & get some.

    • you cant seriously compare Franklin to Nichols lol thats the worst comparison ive ever seen, but look at the past 2 years, who has more wins, nichols is clearly the better qb with less to work with, if riely was on our team we woudlnt have won a game this year.

    • nichols eons ahead of garbage Franklin lol

  5. Couple of stats you can look up yourself, Bomberland. First of all, Eskimos throw the deep ball more than most teams & by far have more completions over 30 yards. Reilly is at the top in % completion. Wpg hardly throws the deep ball & Nichols is dead last in %. So having the Edmonton receivers isn’t much good if you can’t take advantage of the deep ball. Derek Taylor, the stats guy, has noted that Reilly is the most accurate thrower in the league. The Esks lead the CFL in most offensive categories & if you want to know how dominant they have been tune into the latest episode of the waggle & ex NFL & CFL’er Sanchez can fill you in. I like Nichols – he & Lapo have the perfect situation in Wpg. But his stats don’t come close. Sorry.

    • Boneyard- if I was assembling a team today I would take Reilly all day long over Nichols. That said I believe Nichols had a better year than Reilly given Winnipeg’s impotent receiving core. Reilly can throw the deep ball because his receivers are bigger and stronger than the db’s covering them.

  6. Dan Bombers // November 4, 2017 at 11:44 am //

    This franchise owed me a home playoff game. Can’t wait till next week !!

    • Stampnation // November 4, 2017 at 1:33 pm //

      Congratulations Dan. Nothing more exciting than a home playoff game. Your organization deserves It! Kudos to sticking with O’shea when it would have been easy to drop him midway last year. Will Nichols be ready?

  7. The most notable thing for me was Messam’s lack of performance. Only 30 yards. He could have won the rushing title with 20 more.

  8. Wow Calgary looks bad in the cold. The recievers didnt help the young Qb af all and their .
    Key to beating them is shut down Messam because their recievers are weakest link

  9. Lil Bo Peep will be taking the ball himself come the playoff game and running to try to get the complete breakdown of the Stamps this last 6 weeks back on track (maybe).

    Dickenson – you sure didn’t do your receivers or Messam any good sitting Bo , completely contrary to what Steagal said last night
    Bo would have clearly had 2 weeks to rest before the playoffs , high school coaching mistake .

    • Stampnation // November 4, 2017 at 2:26 pm //

      Yeah well…if I had a Lonnie for every time Stegal was wrong I’d buy my dream condo on Manhattan’s upper West side .1 floor above Tom Brady’s.
      I’M sure coach Dave would find your advice invaluable. 28-6-2 coaches usually need fans advice.

    • the good thing yesterday above all else is messam looked mortal and beat, maybe all those years of pounding have finally caught up to him hes not the same messam that was a terror anymore.

  10. We’re not going to settle this so let’s just say they both had good years Bomberland. But Lapo’s offence is built to suit Nichols’ talents. That’s why he’s thrived in Wpg. But one reason he was gone in Edm is bevause he had his chances when Reilly got hurt & ended up in Wpg partly because Franklin was better at just that – opening up the offence with the deep ball. He had Walker, Bowman & Stafford to throw to – all deep threats. So when do you penalize someone for having better receivers. You really don’t know Nichols would be better with those receivers. Would they make full use of stretching the field with them? Lapo’s offence is ball control. Look at the Riders – they have a deep threat in Carter yet have gone to him about 30 times & he’s caught 10. Zylstra has caught over 60% of his long balls. Differen when Glenn is throwing the ball. I’m only pointing out that when Nichols goes deep his completion % is last in the league. You can have the receivers but if the QB doesn’t get you the ball, it doesn’t matter. Let’s not forget Reilly is also a double threat as only Masoli has more rush yards. BTW at the start of the season many experts, including the Wpg guys picked Bombers above Esks. ALL the Rider writers that picked Riders higher than 4th had the same team lower than them – the Eskimos. So let’s not change the story now & say Nichols had less to work with. But good luck to both of them

  11. 24,000 “announced” attendance, more like 4,000 if that. I hate to say it,but the Stamps are in trouble. Coach DD allud d to that at halftime on Friday and there has been something not right with the offence all season besides the injuries at receiver. They just haven’t clicked all year and could be ripe for an upset in the west final.

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