Campbell costs Redblacks a win (& 10 other thoughts on losing to Calgary)

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

On a perfect summer night, the Ottawa Redblacks lost to the Calgary Stampeders on a last second field goal by a score of 17-16.

For the first time since their inaugural season, the Redblacks are on a four-game losing skid.

Here are all my thoughts on the game:

1) The good news is that Jonathan Jennings wasn’t as bad as he was in Winnipeg. A week after completing only 40 per cent of his passes, Jennings’ completion percentage skyrocketed to 83 per cent against the Stamps. In theory, that’s a huge positive. In reality, although Jennings was able to find his teammates with relative ease, he barely pushed the ball down the field. His longest gain of the night was 23 yards and he averaged 8.3 yards per pass.

Jennings went 15-of-18 for 125 yards, one touchdown and two picks. He used his legs a little more and scrambled four times for 12 yards when the pocket broke down. Of the 12 drives he led, four resulted in points, but the first was a byproduct of a great kickoff return as opposed to the offence actually moving the ball.

Through two games its apparent Jennings isn’t the answer at quarterback. At this point, R-Nation should be pining for the return of a healthy Dominique Davis.

2) The Redblacks need to appoint one person on their coaching staff as offensive coordinator, because quite clearly the “by-committee” approach isn’t working. The home crowd was treated to another putrid offensive display, chock full of vanilla and unoriginal  play-calling.

Ottawa’s offence generated 210 yards of net offence. 66 of those came in the first half. They possessed the ball for almost 23 minutes. Six of their 12 offensive possessions lasted three plays or less. Only one possession moved the ball more than 27 yards down the field. They did do a good job on second down, converting 9-of-18 second down tries but went 0-for-1 in the red zone. With the game on the line in the last minute and needing a first down, the Redblacks went two-and-out.

Winston October and company need to go back to the drawing board again, and either come up with new concepts or pray that the return of some healthy bodies make the difference. Going 111 minutes between touchdowns in the CFL is unacceptable.

3) Aside from a fumble that gifted the Stamps an early field goal, John Crockett had a solid night. He was called upon 18 times and responded by averaging 4.6 yards per carry and finished the game with 84 rushing yards and nine in the air. Crockett runs hard, is elusive and rarely goes down on first contact. In an offensive group that lacks positives, Crockett is a bright spot.

4) A week after having their lunch handed to them by Winnipeg’s front seven, the Redblacks’ offensive line responded with a better performance against Calgary. They still conceded two sacks, but overall, Jennings had time to step up and make his reads. There’s still plenty of room for improvement though.

5) The only time the Redblacks’ offence marched the ball down the length of the field was when they force fed Brad Sinopoli. Sinopoli has been a dominant threat in the nation’s capital for years, but it seems like Ottawa’s offensive committee is only now figuring out that putting the ball in his hands ends well.

Sinopoli turned his eight targets into seven catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. Not only did he come up with two big second down catches, he also led all receivers with a game high 34 yards after the catch.

6) As for the rest of Ottawa’s receivers, the less said the better. Dominique Rhymes caught three passes for 23 yards. No other receiver made more than a single catch or finished the night with more than 12 receiving yards.

7) Shame to see a strong defensive performance wasted in a losing effort. It might seem like an odd thing to say given that for the fifth straight game, Noel Thorpe’s defence gave up more than 440 yards (473 to be exact), but despite moving the ball up and down the field, Calgary struggled to put points on the board.

Calgary scored 17 points, three came from an interception that set them up deep inside Ottawa territory. Another three were off a fumble, also deep in Ottawa territory. And two more were courtesy of an ill conceded safety (more on that in a bit). Those eight points loom large in a one-point loss.

The Redblacks generated three sacks, forced four fumbles, held Calgary to 0-for-2 in the red zone and forced a turnover on downs. All that despite being on the field for more than 37 minutes (again).

Defensive back Corey Tindal led the way with a monster game, making eight tackles and forcing a goal line fumble that should’ve won Ottawa the game. Linebacker Avery Williams also had eight tackles and defensive lineman J.R. Tavai made a pair of sacks.

8) Before the game I wrote about how Lewis Ward’s magical streak could have been in jeopardy given the suspension of his regular long snapper. Couldn’t have been more wrong. Ward was yet again money, nailing all three of his field goal attempts, including a 53 yarder. I know I harp on it every week but it’s incredible that a) Ward’s streak is now up to 64 consecutive field goals and b) that he’s 21-of-21 from 40-plus yards during the run.

9) Head coach Rick Campbell is a smart man. He wouldn’t be in the position he is today if he wasn’t. He’s probably forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know. That said, his decision to take a knee in the end zone and give up a safety when his team was ahead by four with just over a minute to go in the game is indefensible, inexcusable and flat out wrong.

In no possible situation did it make sense. If the Redblacks punt and don’t gift Calgary two points, the Stamps find themselves trailing and need a touchdown to pull ahead. Even if they took over on Ottawa’s 40, they would’ve needed to punch the ball across the goal line and finish a drive, something that they hadn’t done all game. In a four-point game, a field goal doesn’t matter, because you’re still behind. But by giving them a free two points, all Calgary had to do was get into field goal range to win, which they quickly did.

Furthermore, following a safety, instead of kicking off from the usual spot (the 35-yard line), teams are required to kick off from their 25-yard line. So not only did Calgary get the two points, Ottawa had to kick off from deeper than normal in their own end.

All of this is stated before even getting into the fact that Ottawa has one of best punters in the league. Richie Leone has a cannon of a leg and is averaging 51.7 yards per punt in 2019. Not to mention the fact that the Redblacks’ cover units are solid.

By conceding the safety, Campbell set his team up to fail. Post game comments reflected how flabbergasted Calgary players were with the decision. Nothing leaked out of Ottawa’s locker room but it’s not hard to imagine the decision not going over well, especially with the defence. Because despite how inept the Jennings-led offence was, the Redblacks could have, and should have, won the game. Obviously the defence could’ve gotten one more stop, but ultimately nobody wears the loss more than Campbell.

10) With the loss, Ottawa’s record drops to 2-4 on the season and 1-3 at home. Six weeks of the season are gone and as things currently stand, the Redblacks are not a playoff team. With that said, context matters and the fact that five of Ottawa’s six games have been against Western teams means they still control their destiny.

If the Redblacks are serious about believing in themselves and not throwing in the towel, a win next Friday in Montreal would be a good start to fixing the perception that the season is in peril.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).