GASSON: Riders clinch home playoff game but are left holding their breath

How are you feeling Rider Nation? It’s probably a bit of a weird moment. You’re happy but there’s definitely a black cloud lingering.

First things first, the Riders accomplished their mission on Saturday night by handily beating the B.C. Lions 36-16 at Mosaic Stadium to secure a home playoff game. It’s the first time the Riders will host a playoff game since they won the Grey Cup in 2013. They even still have a shot at hosting the West Final if the Lions, who now don’t have anything to play for, can beat the Calgary Stampeders next week as the Riders sit at home and watch.

That’s certainly worth celebrating, especially when you consider the state of the franchise just a few years ago.

Like a night where you don’t quite remember all the details and wonder if you did something wrong, there is a bit odd feeling at the same time.

Late in the first quarter, Lions defensive end Odell Willis threw a vicious head shot on quarterback Zach Collaros, the shot ended the pivot’s night, while Willis was able to play the rest of the game (that’s another matter altogether).

The whole thing was quite absurd. How was the call not made in the first place? Why should Chris Jones have to use his only challenge on such an obvious play? Why was Collaros allowed to continue on the very next play as nothing had happened? While some fingers should be pointed at the Riders for that, more should be pointed at the alleged concussion spotter. Were they asleep? Will they have a job next week? If the NFL can fire an official in the middle of the season, then this feels like a no-brainer. If there was ever a play where a player should have been pulled, it was that one.

Willis will certainly be fined by the league this week, but what difference does it make now?

Without Collaros, we saw what the Riders were capable of offensively and it wasn’t pretty. Even though the team put up 36 points, that was basically on the back of their defence as the home team put up fewer than 100 yards passing. Good thing Cameron Marshall is fresh (especially with Tre Mason also leaving the game) as the running back rumbled for 134 yards.

Even though Bridge essentially played three-quarters of the game, he was allowed to attempt just one more pass than Collaros for eight fewer yards. It’s the third time this year Collaros has left with a head injury. He might be alright, he might not. Either way, the trend is not good. Rider fans better hope it’s not serious as it’s pretty clear they need Collaros in hopes of having any kind of offensive output.

As good as the defence and special teams are, the Riders will need a little more than what we saw against the Lions out of the offence to win a playoff game.

Then again, if there’s any team that could win under such circumstances, it’s these Riders. We’ve seen it time and time again.

Game Thoughts

This game turned in the third quarter following a truly bizarre decision by Lions head coach Wally Buono. Just ahead of the goal line, Buono decided it was better if his team gave up a safety rather than punt to an offence that wasn’t going anywhere. Oh, his cover unit had also been struggling, by the way. Buono gave up two, making it a two-possession game once again. The Riders promptly returned the following kick to about where they would have been anyway without the safety and went two and out. When you consider the Lions had to win by at least four, giving up points was an even worse decision. The offence went nowhere, but being stuck in their own end did eventually set up a Willie Jefferson forced fumble and Zach Evans touchdown. Nine points off one decision and it was lights out for B.C.’s home playoff chances.

Ed Gainey probably wasn’t bored on Saturday night. The Riders defensive back caused a bit of a stir on Twitter by calling Regina boring, and seemingly, kind of doubling down on it before the game saying he was bored but didn’t take back what he said. Athletes word things interestingly on Twitter quite often then get mad when people take it in a way they didn’t expect. I didn’t read much into it. Regardless, Gainey made a couple of big plays with a well timed hit causing an incomplete pass and a touchdown off an interception. Combined with Evans’ fumble recovery touchdown, the Riders tied the league record for return touchdowns in a single season with 15 – 11 on defence also tied that record.

As much as I campaigned for Brett Lauther to be the Riders MOP candidate, I think it’s clearly Jefferson now. Who will win league-wide is anyone’s guess.

Brett Lauther was that close to breaking a Rider record for field goal percentage in a single-season. If not for a clank off the uprights, Lauther would have beat Dave Ridgway’s team record of 90.6 per cent. Still an outstanding year for the kicker, who might have bigger things in store for him depending on his contract status.

There were some Rider fans trying to give Buono a send-off in Rider Nation style by chanting his name in a taunting manner. Buono has always been one of Rider fans most beloved targets and I’m sure he loved it the whole time too. He’ll be missed around here. Love him or hate him, Buono got it and understood the big picture of what’s good for the league, even if it went against the nature of most paranoid coaches.

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