Bombers’ Grey Cup drought reaches 28 years (& 11 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 22-14 in front of 29,268 fans at McMahon Stadium.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

Offensive offence

If you’re looking for a reason why the Bombers failed to advance to the club’s first Grey Cup appearance in seven years, look no further than the team’s suddenly stagnant offence.

Winnipeg led the CFL in scoring this season, averaging 30.5 points per game. The club’s vaunted offensive attack dried up on Sunday, however, recording just 14 points and 262 total yards (45 of which came on the team’s final drive).

Matt Nichols struggled, completing just 15 of 32 pass attempts for 156 yards. Nichols’ key incompletion came late in the first quarter when he overthrew a wide open Darvin Adams in the end zone. Chris Streveler would later miss a wide open Andrew Harris for a would-be touchdown strike late in the third quarter.

The Bombers failed to record a touchdown on Sunday, losing the game by eight points.

Nichols’ critics were silenced late in the season when the veteran quarterback led the Bombers to wins in six consecutive starts. Nichols even tossed for 358 yards in his most recent meeting with Calgary in mid-October, a season-high.

That’s all changed with a poor performance in Calgary. Nichols and the Bombers will be forced to answer questions all off-season about the play of the team’s pivot and highest-paid player.

Simply put, Paul LaPolice’s offence laid an egg at the worst possible time. You’re not going to win a game in the CFL without scoring a touchdown; converting on just five of 23 second downs isn’t going to help, either.

Calgary’s defence is great — full credit to them.

With that said, there’s simply no excuse for the lack of production from Winnipeg’s offence. It cost this team a shot at the Grey Cup.

Pivotal problem

For those asking, I don’t see any way in which Matt Nichols is not the starting quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2019.

There are only three starting CFL quarterbacks — Nichols, Jeremiah Masoli, and Johnny Manziel — who are under contract for 2019. The others will be looking for huge dollars on the open market — dollars that will come available thanks to a new CBA that will (hopefully) be agreed upon this off-season.

Adding a free agent quarterback would cost the Bombers a ton of money. That’s not happening.

Winnipeg’s best bet is to keep Nichols while continuing to invest in the development of Chris Streveler. The Bombers also need to do their due diligence to find another developmental quarterback as their third-stringer. Bryan Bennett is one heck of an athlete, but I don’t believe he has a future in the CFL as a passer.

I can appreciate the sentiment from fans who want change — Nichols was poor on Sunday — but I don’t think change is imminent. This is Matt Nichols’ team for the foreseeable future.

Defence rises to the occasion

The Blue Bomber defence was very good in Sunday’s West Final — easily good enough to win the game.

Richie Hall’s unit was shaky in the second quarter, allowing 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Eric Rogers.

Following some key halftime adjustments, Winnipeg’s defence was outstanding. The unit limited Bo Levi Mitchell to just 48 passing yards on four completions in the second half.

When a defence limits its opponent to four completions in a half of football, that team should win. Period.

The Bombers even recorded a takeaway at the start of the second half — Don Jackson lost a fumble at his own 46 — though the offence was able to do nothing with it.

Winnipeg’s defence cost them the 2017 West Semi-Final, but it was solid during the playoffs in 2018. If only this team could find a way to get all three facets of the game clicking at the same time…

Free agents

I’ll be breaking down the Bombers’ free agents for 3DownNation over the next week or two, but suffice to say that Winnipeg’s top priority is re-signing Adam Bighill.

Bighill, a shoo-in to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player next week in Edmonton, is slated to earn a raise after playing the 2018 campaign on a one-year, $175,000 contract.

I only see two possible scenarios playing out for Bighill this winter — re-signing with Winnipeg or returning to B.C. where he spent the first six years of his career.

The Lions have a lot of work to do on their roster — they have 34 pending free agents — but Ed Hervey is expected to make a gigantic free agent offer to quarterback Mike Reilly. Between the possible addition of Reilly and Hervey’s fondness for building his team along the offensive and defensive lines, I’m skeptical that the Leos will have cap space for Bighill.

I’d bet on the star linebacker signing a long-term deal with the Bombers this off-season.

Rotten to the corps

The Bombers have no greater position of need this upcoming off-season than at receiver.

The decision to start Charles Nelson at slotback on Sunday speaks volumes about Winnipeg’s receiving corps. Nelson — a man with one previous CFL start — wasn’t thrust into the starting line-up due to injury (ie. Bralon Addison in Hamilton).

Nelson started in place of Kenbrell Thompkins due to the latter’s ineffectiveness. Thompkins, meanwhile, entered the starting line-up because Adarius Bowman was ineffective to start the season.

Neither Thompkins nor Nelson made the most of their opportunities, combining for an average of two receptions per start and just one touchdown on the year.

Darvin Adams is a very good boundary wide receiver, while the club’s young Canadian receivers — Nic Demski, Drew Wolitarsky, Daniel Petermann, and Rashaun Simonise — are solid.

Outside of that, this receiving corps needs a complete overhaul.

Dressed down

The Bombers were 11-3 on the season with Weston Dressler in the line-up prior to the West Final.

Dressler’s presence failed to equate to a victory on Sunday with the veteran recording just two receptions for 13 yards.

It’s time for the Bombers to move on from Dressler. And if we’ve seen the last of Dressler on the field — the veteran turns 34 in July — I’d like to congratulate him on an outstanding career. The Canadian Football Hall of Fame awaits.

Pardon me?

I like Dave Dickenson, but this comment was way out of bounds.

“Why are all the penalties in front of Mike O’Shea? F***ing Canadians,” the Stampeders’ head coach yelled late in the first half. The quote is tough to make out exactly — TSN killed the audio feed following Dickenson’s expletive — but you can listen to it below (language warning, obviously).

We all say things we later regret in emotional situations — myself included — but Dickenson’s comment was strange and inappropriate.

If it weren’t for Canadian football Dave Dickenson would never have had the opportunity to play or coach the game professionally. He should give his head a shake.

Miserable match-up

Full credit to the Ottawa Redblacks and Calgary Stampeders on punching their tickets to the Grey Cup this season. Both teams won their respective divisions and outplayed their opponents on Sunday in the East and West Finals.

With that said, I hate this match-up for next week’s Grey Cup. Calgary has represented the West Division in four of the last five Grey Cups, while Ottawa has represented the East Division in three of the last four. That’s… boring.

The conversation about next week’s championship game will focus largely on whether or not Calgary can avoid choking as they have the past two years. Other than that, it’s difficult to find an interesting storyline heading into the game.

It’s obviously a great match-up for Calgary and Ottawa. The rest of the country? Not so much.

Bo to the Show?

There’s a lot of talk about the future of Bo Levi Mitchell and a potential departure to the NFL.

I think Mitchell is good enough to play in the NFL — heck, Blaine Gabbert (see below) has played in the league for eight years — but I don’t see him leaving the CFL. Mitchell told the CFL Horsemen podcast this week that he won’t sign an NFL contract with no signing bonus; he wants guaranteed money from a team that intends on giving him an honest shot to make the roster.

I don’t think Mitchell will get it. Not at (almost) 29 years old — and not from a league with a prejudice against CFL players.

Conversely, I see Alex Singleton getting an NFL contract and making a career down south. He’s still only 24 and has the size and athleticism required to play the American game.

A small consolation (for Bomber fans)

Aside from Singleton’s imminent departure to the NFL, another thing that Bomber fans can look forward to is the (likely) departure of Stampeders’ defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks.

Claybrooks has the inside track to become the next head coach of the B.C. Lions this winter. This means that Calgary’s defence is likely going to regress next season as (arguably) the league’s best defensive coordinator heads west.

Of course, this means that B.C.’s defence should improve substantially.

Winnipeg can’t catch a break.

The drought

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have failed to win the Grey Cup for a 28th consecutive season. That is sad, pathetic, unfortunate, and a little bit funny.

What else is there to say? 28 years is a long time — longer than I’ve been alive, in fact.

I feel sympathy for Bomber fans everywhere. They deserve better.

Cheers, folks

Thanks as always for checking out my post-game work for 3DownNation. I enjoy writing these pieces as well as the feedback I get from readers via social media — even if our esteemed 3Down comments section is no more.

I will continue to provide weekly content for 3DownNation over the course of the off-season, much of which will focus on the Bombers. Please continue to check back regularly for new content and follow me on twitter at @JohnDHodge.

For those who listen to the Blue Bomber Talk Podcast, please look tomorrow evening for the season finale of the show as Tim and I break down the disappointing West Final and preview the upcoming off-season.


John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.