Bombers lose West Semi-Final on complacency, coaching errors (& 12 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost Sunday’s West Semi-Final at B.C. Place Stadium to the B.C. Lions by a final score of 32-31. The Bombers held first and second half leads of 25-6 and 28-12, respectively, but were ultimately unable to advance to next Sunday’s West Final in Calgary.

2. It’s never fair blame the outcome of an entire game on just one play, but it’s hard to overstate the ridiculousness of Mike O’Shea’s decision to attempt a 61-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the game. Facing third and four on B.C.’s 54 yard line, Paul LaPolice’s offence had an opportunity to set-up Justin Medlock for a game-winning field goal with just one more first down. Instead, O’Shea elected to send his kicker out to attempt a kick from a distance that was from well beyond his range. We know the kick was from beyond Medlock’s range because — aside from witnessing his well-short attempt — Medlock told Bob Irving and Doug Brown of 680 CJOB that his pre-game range was 57 yards. How one risks the season on a kick four yards beyond that distance is simply unconscionable.

3. The field goal aside, O’Shea’s first major mistake came on the Bombers’ second-last drive with his team up 31-26. Alex Bazzie clearly made contact with Matt Nichols’ facemask, a hit that should have elicited a roughing the passer call. No call was made and O’Shea elected not to challenge. If the call was overturned — and I believe it would have been — the Bombers would have been first and ten at midfield, a mere ten yards shy of Justin Medlock’s range. Instead, the Bombers punted and the rest, as they say, is history.

4. To Mike O’Shea’s credit — and he deserves a lot for how far his team came this year — the Bombers did not commit a giveaway, allow a sack or take a penalty in the first half. That’s pretty spectacular for road post-season football.

5. Richie Hall’s defence had another poor game on Sunday afternoon, giving up 522 total yards to a B.C. offence that averaged 424.2 per game during the regular season. Turnovers are great — the Bombers got two of them early on a Chris Randle interception and Khalil Bass fumble recovery — but the Bombers need to find a way to shut down opposing offences without relying so heavily on takeaways. There are a lot of great pieces to build around — Chris Randle, Taylor Loffler, T.J. Heath, Jamaal Westerman, Ian Wild, and Keith Shologan are all under contract through next season — but the Bombers may need to find a defensive coordinator who can better harness their skills for next season.

6. The Winnipeg Football Club has still won just one playoff game since the 2007 Grey Cup, a 19-3 victory in the 2011 East Final over Hamilton. The Bombers hadn’t appeared in a playoff game since the 2011 Grey Cup prior to Sunday’s West Semi-Final.

7. Speaking of the 2011 Grey Cup, the Bombers dressed just one holdover from that game on Sunday in slotback Clarence Denmark. Denmark was released this past off-season, meaning one could argue that Winnipeg didn’t have any true holdovers on Sunday’s game roster. Ironically, the Lions started two players who also started for Winnipeg in the 2011 Grey Cup in defensive tackle Bryant Turner Jr. and Brandon Stewart.

8. One bright spot for the Bombers: with the Saskatchewan Roughriders sitting at home after a disappointing 5-13 season, Ryan Smith and Weston Dressler combined for 204 yards and two touchdowns versus B.C. That makes this tweet from back in February pretty darn funny.

sask-tweet9. Winnipeg’s offence was the subject of criticism this season for a few reasons. Some said Matt Nichols wasn’t enough of a big-game quarterback, while others claimed their receiving corps was too small. In the end, Paul LaPolice’s unit played good football down the stretch — 459 yards and 31 points should have been enough to win on Sunday — but it’s clear that Mike O’Shea didn’t believe in his offence when push came to shove. Actions speak louder than words — O’Shea can talk all he wants about believing in Nichols and LaPolice, but trying a 61-yard field goal instead of leaving the offence on the field for third and four? That says everything.

10. The Lions failed to crack the 20,000 mark in attendance on Sunday afternoon, selling just 19,176 tickets for the West Semi-Final. For perspective, B.C. sold 41,313 tickets to the West Final in 2011 and 54,313 one week later for the Grey Cup. Yikes.

11. Since the Bombers are now officially in next-year country (again), some key pending free agent names to keep an eye on include: Matt Nichols, Kevin Glenn, Khalil Bass, Euclid Cummings, Rory Kohlert, Tori Gurley, and Sukh Chungh. Cummings and Gurley will try the NFL, while I expect Nichols, Glenn, Chungh, and Bass to be back in blue and gold. I do not expect Kohlert will not be offered a contract for next season.

12. Speaking of next season, the Bombers are now officially on the clock for May’s 2017 CFL draft. The Bombers hold the first and fifth overall picks.

13. All things considered, the Blue Bombers’ 2016 season has to be considered a success for many reasons. The club finished with its best record in 13 years at 11-7 and broke a number of dubious streaks along the way (first playoff berth since 2011, first Labour Day victory since 2004, first win in Edmonton since 2006, etc.). Even so, it’s difficult not to look at Sunday’s epic collapse and wonder what could have been. The Stampeders are an excellent football team, but they aren’t invulnerable. Ottawa or Edmonton — a combined 18-17-1 in the regular season — will represent the East Division in the Grey Cup. Had Winnipeg won Sunday’s West Semi-Final, there is every possibility that they could have ended its most dubious streak of all. Then again, there’s always next year.

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