Bombers relive West Semi-Final nightmare (& 11 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost to the B.C. Lions on Friday night at B.C. Place Stadium by a score of 45-42. Here are my thoughts:

1. I can’t remember the last time I saw two teams play such similar games in such a short period of time (and in the same building, to boot). Friday night’s game was a wildly entertaining showcase of well-played Canadian football that, sadly for Bomber fans, was essentially a repeat of last year’s West Semi-Final. From the crumbling lead (Winnipeg held a 31-19 fourth quarter lead last November and a 42-27 fourth quarter lead on Friday), to the misguided coaching decision (Mike O’Shea opted for a 61-yard field goal on third and four in the West Semi-Final and a fake punt deep in his own territory on Friday), to the last-minute Medlock miss (Medlock missed from 61 yards out last November and from 50 yard out on Friday), the parallels are impossible to ignore. The Bombers don’t travel to B.C. again in the regular season — Winnipeg will host the Lions twice in October — but the negative chatter around Friday night’s loss will be deafening in Bomberland should the club travel to B.C. for the West Semi-Final again this year.

2. The field-side of the Bombers’ secondary was victimized again on Friday night, allowing the vast majority of Travis Lulay’s 404 passing yards. Rookies Brandon Alexander (strong-side linebacker), Roc Carmichael (halfback), and Brian Walker (cornerback) simply had no answer for the Lions’ receiving corps, allowing Lulay to ignore the side of the field patrolled by veterans Chris Randle and T.J. Heath. Maurice Leggett, Bruce Johnson, and Kevin Fogg are all close to returning to the line-up after stints on the one- or six-game injured lists. For the sake of Winnipeg’s air defence, this trio can’t return soon enough.

3. The Bombers’ second quarter ‘sleeper play’ was as slick of a trick play as I’ve seen in the CFL in some time. There was some confusion on TSN’s broadcast about whether or not the play was legal; after some detective work from our staff here on 3Down, the play was determined to be legit. Kudos to Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea for designing a play so innovative and having the gall to call it in a big game.

4. Speaking of trick plays, it’s impossible to discuss Friday night’s game without addressing the Bombers’ fourth quarter fake punt. Needless to say, the call was foolish. Up by just eight points and on their own 26-yard line, Justin Medlock threw a pass intended for an unsuspecting Derek Jones. The pass was almost picked off — B.C.’s Dakota Brush had it in his hands — but it didn’t appear that any of Winnipeg’s special teamers were expecting a pass. It was also ironic to see the Bombers try an unsuccessful trick play that involved a Medlock pass when Erik Harris, a former teammate of Medlock’s in Hamilton, had taken a shot at the kicker’s throwing ability not one hour earlier.

5. Speaking of Medlock, it was shocking to see the star kicker’s last-second 50-yard field goal fall short. No kicker’s perfect — misses happen — but Medlock missing short? Inside of the 60-yard mark, that simply doesn’t happen. Given that Medlock’s punting average was just 34.9 yards on Friday night — his season average was over 42 coming into the game — you have to wonder if the Bomber kicker is healthy. Hitting from 55 yards out with ease just last week, I can’t imagine another explanation for Medlock’s sudden lack of range.

6. The Bombers have been unable to find an impactful rookie receiver since Chris Mattews was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2012. Intriguing prospects have come up over the years (Kevin Cone, Jhomo Gordon, Jace Davis, Thomas Mayo, Gerrard Sheppard, etc.), but none stuck. T.J. Thorpe may be set to change that, enjoying a solid eight-catch, 65-yard performance in his CFL debut. Drawing comparisons to Arland Bruce from offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice, Thorpe was injured in the club’s second preseason game and returned to the field just recently. It’ll be fun to see how Thorpe’s game improves as the season progresses — consider him a lock to start next week against Montreal.

7. Thorpe needed just one game to surpass the season reception total of Clarence Denmark on Friday. Denmark may have recorded his first touchdown catch, but his season totals are paltry — six receptions for 94 yards and one TD in four games. That’s simply not enough production from the veteran receiver.

8. It was nice to see Jake Thomas get recognition on Friday night for his third quarter interception. Thomas is one of the most underrated national players in the CFL as far as I’m concerned — he’s not much to look at, but he makes a ton of plays. His twitter handle (@FatBoiThomas) is also one of the league’s best.

9. The Bombers have been outscored badly in first and fourth quarters this year (see below), a troubling trend for a team that’s looking to be considered a legitimate Grey Cup contender. The club’s success in the third quarter is a positive indication that halftime adjustments are paying off, but crumbling in the fourth quarter? That’s simply not what championship-calibre teams do.

1st quarter 14-32
2nd quarter 50-43
3rd quarter 49-21
4th quarter 9-42

10. After overthrowing a number of long balls in the first three games of the season, Matt Nichols appeared to regain his accuracy in Vancouver. Completing 28-of-36 pass attempts, Nichols hit Darvin Adams for two long touchdown passes and Clarence Denmark for score on a deep a corner route. I was prepared to give Nichols’ performance an A, but his late-game interception to Ronnie Yell is impossible to overlook. Nichols’ greatest strength is his ability to take care of the football, a big key to the club’s league-best plus-29 turnover ratio last season. The Bombers don’t need their starting pivot to throw for 350 yards every game, but they do need him to protect the football — particularly in the dying minutes of tight football games (duh).

11. Derek Jones’ first quarter blocked punt was like none other I’ve ever seen. Rather than blocking the ball after it was booted, Jones actually made contact with the ball before Ty Long’s foot was able to strike it. It’s one of those clips you have to see in slow motion.

12. The Bombers and Lions played another doozy on Friday night, the clubs’ fourth-straight meeting to be decided by a field goal or less. The season series is still up for grabs, but the Bombers have some work to do for their two October meetings with B.C. to be meaningful in the standings. Winnipeg’s 2-2 record would be enough for a share of first-place in the East, but it is currently good enough for just fourth in the West. Edmonton and B.C. each have four wins while Calgary, currently at 2-1-1, is likely to get to three wins tomorrow when they take on the Riders at McMahon Stadium. It may still be July, but the Bombers can’t afford to lose much more ground with the West Division’s top teams.

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