The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday night by a score of 23-15 at Tim Hortons Field. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Give it away, give it away, give it away now
The Bombers committed six turnovers on Friday night after recording just eight during the club’s 5-0 start.
Matt Nichols threw three interceptions, none of which came as a result of tipped passes. Winnipeg’s starter struggled throughout the game, making some poor decisions and a handful of errant throws.
Winnipeg’s protection struggled at times against Hamilton’s formidable defensive line, but the Ticats were held to just one sack.
Without completely discrediting the Ticats — winning a game without your starting quarterback is never easy — this felt like a game that Winnipeg gave away.
Had it not been for a number of sloppy giveaways, the Bombers would probably still be undefeated.
Just what I kneeded
The biggest story from Friday’s game was the injury sustained by Jeremiah Masoli in the first half.
Masoli appeared to hurt his knee while retreating from an oncoming pass rusher. The injury was non-contact and sent the star quarterback to the locker room. He later returned to the sidelines in street clothes wearing a brace on his knee.
The extent of the damage remains unclear, but Masoli’s injury had all the tell-tale signs of a torn ACL. If that’s the case, the reigning East Division Most Outstanding Player will likely be out for the rest of the 2019 season.
Losing Masoli would be a devastating blow to the Tiger-Cats’ Grey Cup aspirations. With all due respect to back-up quarterback Dane Evans, Masoli is easily the team’s best chance of winning a soft East Division.
A long-term injury to Masoli would also be a problem for the CFL as a whole. The 30-year-old is the sixth starting quarterback to suffer an injury through seven weeks this season. He’s one of the league’s most exciting players and operates the best offence in the East Division.
The CFL needs all the star power it can get. If Masoli is out for the year, that’s bad news for fans across the country.
We’re (not) going streaking
Matt Nichols completed his final 19 pass attempts in last week’s victory over the Redblacks. That mark set a new Blue Bomber record that carried over into Friday’s game against Hamilton.
It also meant Nichols needed just five more consecutive completions to surpass Jeremiah Masoli’s league record (23).
That failed to pan out as Lucky Whitehead dropped a two-yard screen pass on Winnipeg’s first offensive play of the game. Not that it mattered — Nichols overthrew Kenny Lawler on the following play, resulting in the first of two Jumal Rolle interceptions.
The Bombers and Ticats have been the best teams in their respective divisions through the first third of the season, leading some to call Friday’s game a Grey Cup preview.
For the sake of football fans across the country, I hope this year’s Grey Cup is nothing like what we saw at Tim Hortons Field.
Though Masoli’s absence accounted for some of Hamilton’s struggles, there was plenty of sloppy play from both teams. It was a disappointing performance from a pair of clubs teams who entered the contest with a combined record of 10-1.
I realize the Grey Cup is still four months away and that July is too early for teams to be playing their best football.
Even so, Friday’s game was a let down. What could have been a battle of heavyweights felt more like an exhibition game.
I’m sorry I can’t be perfect
In his book Moneyball, author Michael Lewis chronicles how then-Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane went about assessing players.
Being a small market team, the Athletics could never compete in MLB free agency. They had to look for hidden gems that other teams wouldn’t consider signing in order to field a winning roster.
Beane called this process looking for “warts.” A wart was any reason why a rival team would pass on a player despite his ability to produce quality statistics. These included anything from unorthodox pitching techniques to a player being overweight.
I think Beane’s term applies well to the CFL as well as the MLB. As great as many of the CFL’s players are, there’s a reason each one isn’t in the NFL. Be it nationality, injury history or a lack of size, every player is in Canada for a reason.
Lucky Whitehead’s lack of ball security is why he’s in the CFL. He’s got world class speed, sees the field well, and runs good routes. But he’s going to put some balls on the turf — simple as that.
Darvin Adams, Drew Wolitarsky, and Anthony Gaitor left Friday’s game due to injury and did not return.
Kenny Walker and Daniel Petermann filled out the receiving corps, while Chris Humes drew into the secondary. Chandler Fenner moved to Gaitor’s spot at strong-side linebacker with Humes taking over for Fenner at field-side cornerback.
It will be interesting to see how the Bombers look to overcome their injuries with a short week coming up. One player I expect to see in the starting line-up is Chris Matthews.
Speaking of which…
Chris Matthews was a healthy scratch for a second consecutive game on Friday, which has some Bomber fans concerned.
Global’s report that Matthews was stabbed at a downtown Winnipeg bar last weekend is obviously disconcerting. The entire story hasn’t gone public and the team has been mum on the details (for obvious reasons).
That said, a good player being held out of the line-up is bound to raise eyebrows. It’s not unprecedented, however.
Edmonton defensive end Alex Bazzie has been a healthy scratch for the past several weeks due to the emergence of Nick Usher. The Eskimos are generating a consistent pass rush without Bazzie and the team is winning games. Why make a change?
I see the situation in Winnipeg as being similar. Lucky Whitehead and Kenny Lawler have been strong contributors with Matthews on the sideline. There’s no need to rush anybody back into the line-up. This is professional football — injuries happen, which is why Matthews should return to the line-up next week.
There’s also the matter of Matthews’ contract. We’ll report his contract figures here on the site soon, but the pass catcher isn’t making premium dollars. He also isn’t Winnipeg’s highest-paid receiver (or close to being so).
Every elite team has good players who don’t fit on the roster. The Bombers are good team with an overabundance of talent at some positions, which is a great problem to have.
Every rose has its thorn
Winston Rose recorded his fourth interception of the season on Friday, picking off Dane Evans in the second quarter. He also recorded a pick on Hamilton’s first two-point convert attempt, though converts don’t count toward official statistics.
Rose has played very well this season, though I still believe Marcus Sayles is Winnipeg’s best cover man. Sayles doesn’t have much in the way of stats, but that’s what happens when teams aren’t throwing your way.
Lookin’ out my back door
The Blue Bombers will stay in Ontario this week ahead of next Thursday’s game against the Toronto Argonauts.
The Argos (0-6) have been terrible this season, losing their games by an average of 23.2 points.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson was pulled at halftime of Thursday’s 26-0 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos. I expect Bethel-Thompson will start against the Bombers, if only because back-up Dakota Prukop played poorly in relief. James Franklin remains on the six-game injured list.
Calgary (4-2) and Edmonton (4-2) meet next week at McMahon Stadium, which — barring a tie — means Winnipeg (5-1) will need to beat Toronto to maintain sole possession of first place in the West Division.
Rest in peace
Friday was the eighth anniversary of the death of Richard Harris. Harris was 63 when he passed away suddenly while serving as Winnipeg’s defensive line coach.
Harris was and remains one of the most beloved people in the recent memory of the CFL. I was only lucky enough to meet Harris once, but our meeting made it immediately evident why the man was universally beloved and respected.
Rest easy, coach.