GASSON: Bombers beat the Riders at their own game in West semifinal

Well, there’s certainly a lot to unpack after the Roughriders saw their 2018 season come to an end at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the West semifinal.

We’ll get to all of that, but ultimately, the Riders got a taste of their own medicine. What the Bombers did to the Riders on Sunday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium is exactly what the Riders hoped their team would do throughout the 2018 season.

The Bombers bent on a couple of drives to open the game, but ultimately did not break (more on those plays in a bit). From there, Winnipeg started to find their legs and took over the game as time went on, thanks mostly to a defence that didn’t give up much and a running game that could not be stopped.

Bombers running back Andrew Harris finished the night with 19 carries for 153 yards – 124 of those yards coming on the last 12 carries. In a game where running would be essential thanks to the elements, the Bombers offensive line and ball carrier got stronger as the game went on, wearing down a Rider defence that did all it could to keep their team in the game like they did all year.

On the other hand, the Riders leading rusher was Brandon Bridge with 86 yards. Cameron Marshall and Marcus Thigpen, the duo who had to carry this team to Calgary, managed just 29 yards, combined. The Riders can’t win this way, and they didn’t.

Like the Riders, the Bombers were also more opportunistic on defence with an interception in the second quarter that ultimately changed the game. The Riders didn’t create a turnover or force enough two and outs.

The only spot you could say the Riders won was in the return game, but that alone won’t win you a football game.

In the end, the Riders biggest wart all season cost them: they needed their offence to help them get over the finish line and they just couldn’t do it.

Game Thoughts

Before we get into some of the moments from this game and other various thoughts, I want to give head coach Chris Jones and an enormous amount of credit for a decision he made earlier in the week. After the game, Jones told reporters that quarterback Zach Collaros was fine during his bye week but was definitely still feeling the effects of his concussion upon returning to Regina. There were flashbacks to the Ottawa game where Collaros played despite some red flags. This time, Jones kept Collaros out of the lineup, even thought he cleared protocol, for his own good. Even if it wasn’t a playoff game, Jones deserves applause for making such a decision, it’s even more impressive with the season on the line. Well done, coach.

Along those lines, the CFL once again showed how woefully inept they are when it comes to headshots. We’ve all seen the one Brandon Bridge took at the end of the game, the TSN ref cam did a good job showing how the only ref watching the QB had an obstructed view. That is what it is. However, why can’t the video official make such a call? Why should a coach not get another challenge after getting one right (like Jones had done earlier in the game.) These are the kinds of things the league needs to correct in order to be seen as taking these types of hits seriously. As bad as that missed call was, I don’t think it would have changed the outcome of the game.

This game changed for the Riders on two miscues by Bridge. In the first quarter, Bridge threw behind a pretty open Naaman Roosevelt and were forced to settle for a 16-yard field goal. It should have been 10-0 Riders. Who knows what would have happened from there? Regardless, we’ve seen the Riders overcome missed opportunities before but then Bridge threw a really bad pick in the second quarter. Without proper footing, Bridge hoofed it deep for a receiver who ultimately fell anyway, but the throw was only catchable by Kevin Fogg, who turned it into a decent return. That pick led to the lone touchdown of the first half and the Riders had lost control of the game. They would have needed a big play to make up for it and never got it.

Other than those two plays, Bridge didn’t play all that bad; he wasn’t great, but it could have been much worse. If those two plays – especially the pick – don’t happen, he’s probably not much of a story and the Riders might be moving onto Calgary.

One decision that didn’t help the Riders cause saw David Watford enter the game after Bridge had a good scramble to get them within scoring distance. The offence had some defence rhythm but all that ended with the switch and a handoff that went nowhere. Bridge came back and in they ultimately had to settle for another field goal.  I wonder if Stephen McAdoo would like a re-do on that one.

There was certainly an animated discussion on the sideline at one point between the offensive line – most notably Thaddeus Coleman and Josiah St. John – after the Bombers got an easy sack on Bridge. Whatever was discussed didn’t really work as they did not have a good game.

Though no one outside of Saskatchewan would know it, Mic’hael Brooks was the Riders biggest loss of the season. Their run defence was never the same without him.

If you ever needed a poster child for starting the season earlier, this was it. Two historical rivals playing in a playoff (not including the Grey Cup) game for the first time in over 40 years with a stat holiday the next day and paid attendance was just over 30,000 and there was no way there were that many at the game. It was a miserable day in Regina and I don’t blame people for staying home. Kudos to those did come out. November football is a tough sell on the prairies.

There’s no answer to this question right now but it feels like we might see at least two new quarterbacks here next season. Did Collaros do enough to earn an extension? I don’t know.

An eventful season in Saskatchewan is now over and as always, expect another eventful offseason.

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