Riders have no one to blame but themselves (again) in Banjo Bowl loss

It’s amazing the Saskatchewan Roughriders were able to walk off the field at Investors Groups Field considering how many times they shot themselves in the foot during a 17-10 loss to the Blue Bombers in the Banjo Bowl.

In fairness, yes, the other team gets paid too (as the old cliche goes) and the Bombers deserve credit for the win, as well. The defence was stout most of the game and the offence took advantage of the opportunities they did get.  That being said, the Riders could have come away with a win if not for themselves. All day, the Riders were unable to get out of their own way in a game filled with poor play, bad penalties and some interesting coaching decisions. That’s to say, this loss was a total team effort.

The easiest flaw to point out in the latest notch in the loss column for the Green and White was a lack of discipline. In all, the Riders were flagged 16 times for 120 yards worth of penalties. That number is simply too high for a last place team to overcome. Not only did they take a lot of penalties, many of them came at bad times too. The most obvious example came after Justin Medlock missed a game-clinching field goal in the final minute of the fourth quarter, Kendial Lawerence returned the kick out over mid-field. But, a clear cut penalty brought it back, forcing the Riders to hope for a miracle from their own 1o-yard line. There was also a play in the second quarter where both Justin Cox and Makana Henry were flagged on the same play, eventually leading to a Matt Nichols sneaking in for a touchdown.

Sure, it’s easy to sit here and blame the officials for throwing the flag, as many fans have become accustomed to doing, but at the same time, the players have to be better too (more on that in a bit).

Other factors that led to the Riders latest loss included a poorly timed fumble by Caleb Holley, eventually leading to the Bombers game-winning touchdown and a fake 56-yard field goal call late in the fourth quarter that failed in spectacular fashion (also, more on that in a bit) and yet another slow start.

It might sound like a broken record, but these are the kinds of things that happen to a team that is now 1-10. As they say, you gotta be lucky to be good and good to be lucky.

Other thoughts

This game showcased many of the issues facing the league when it comes to the “watchability” factor. Both teams took a combined 20 penalties for 206 yards, an unacceptably high number for a professional football game. While many love to moan about the officials, it’s time the league and players association do something to make the players in this league better. Do the refs make mistakes? Of course. They’re human just like everyone else on the field but they’re not making 206 yards worth of mistakes, the players need to own that too. When you watch games in the NFL or the NCAA, one of the huge differences is preparation.  In the CFL, teams still only get four and a half hours a day to hold practice and meet with their players. It’s a rule that lives on from the days when players worked before or after practice. That doesn’t happen anymore. This is something I would love to see the league explore when CBA negotiations begin again. Better prepared players comes with more practice and meeting time. That should lower flags and produce better payers in the process too. The league will have to give up something to get it, but it’s something the fans deserve.

For the second week in a row, Chris Jones rolled the dice with a fake on special teams. Last week, it was a fake punt, this week it was a fake field goal. I will always support aggressive play calling, but there are times Jones needs to be smarter in his aggression. On that play, few if any believed the Riders were going to attempt a 56-yard field goal, even if it was made, they still would have needed a touchdown to win. The fake was obvious. Jones would have been better off either a) leaving the offence on to go for it or b) fake a punt, if you really want to go that bad. In retrospect a punt would have been the right call, but in the heat of the moment, I see why Jones wanted to go for it.

Once again, the Riders seemed to have trouble with the noise at Investors Group Field. The offence was definitely out of joint, the offensive line had issues and Darian Durant struggled to make throws early in the game. The team practised with fake crowd noise this week, but nothing prepares you for the emotion of the real thing.

Again, the offence was only able to put three points on the board in the first half. Since their only win of the season against Ottawa on July 22, the Riders have just 32 points in the first half. That’s an average of roughly four and a half points a game over the seven game stretch. That’s just not good enough. It’s a lot easier to overcome mistakes late in the game when you do more in the first 30 minutes of play. Not surprisingly, the Riders have lost every game during this stretch.

Naaman Roosevelt had himself another game. The soon-to-be team nominee for most outstanding player wasted no time crossing the 1,000 yard mark on the season when he went for 58 yards on a catch and run on the offence’s second play from scrimmage. Roosevelt added two highlight reel quality catches in his 121 yard total.

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