The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats by a score of 33-13 in front of 25,086 fans at IG Field on Friday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Bad movies rarely get a sequel, but the Blue Bombers followed up last week’s epic collapse in Montreal with a box office bomb at IG Field.
Winnipeg’s defence was unable to slow down Hamilton’s passing attack in the first half, allowing 308 yards through the air. Receivers Bralon Addison and Brandon Banks combined for 171 yards by halftime with one touchdown apiece.
— CFL (@CFL) September 28, 2019
The Blue Bombers aren’t a team built for playing from behind. Winnipeg’s bread and butter is running the football to control the clock, which isn’t how you overcome a double-digit deficit.
Chris Streveler did not complete a pass that traveled more than 20 yards in the air until less than seven minutes remained in the game. One of Streveler’s few deep shots resulted in a Jumal Rolle interception late in the fourth quarter, which sealed the game.
It was a disappointing follow-up to a tough loss last week that will greatly inhibit Winnipeg’s chances of finishing first in the West Division. The Calgary Stampeders (9-4) and Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-4) remain at four losses, which means Winnipeg may have to sweep their final four games to reclaim the division lead.
Given the Blue Bombers’ remaining schedule (at Saskatchewan, vs. Montreal, at Calgary, vs. Calgary), that’s a very tall order.
Under the knife
The Blue Bombers released a statement regarding Matt Nichols on Thursday stating that he’s out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Last week I wrote a column regarding whether or not Dane Evans had made Jeremiah Masoli expendable in Hamilton. Evans responded by having the best game of his career on Friday night, completing 25-of-32 passing for 359 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
Wouldn’t it be something if Masoli ended up wearing blue and gold in 2020?
With Nichols officially done for the year, I firmly believe that Winnipeg needs to add a quarterback with CFL experience — and the sooner the better.
As a wise person once said: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” The Winnipeg Football Club already got Ryan Dinwiddie’d once — it doesn’t need to happen again.
Sean McGuire has never thrown a pass in a meaningful professional football game. With all due respect to the rookie, he can’t be the team’s only backup quarterback heading into a potential Grey Cup run. It was unfair to put Dinwiddie into that situation in 2007 and it wouldn’t be fair to do the same to McGuire, either.
The list of available passers is unspectacular, but respectable: Kevin Glenn; Brandon Bridge; James Franklin; and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. One of them needs to be acquired — and the sooner the better.
Veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence had an outstanding game on Friday night, recording a CFL record 17 tackles.
There’s no doubting Lawrence’s ability as a player — the 30-year-old is a three-time divisional all-star for a reason.
Lawrence was given a maximum fine for delivering a head shot to Logan Kilgore in Edmonton last week, but that hardly seems like enough.
The veteran linebacker delivered a head shot to Zach Collaros back in June and received a two-game suspension. He was also fined two weeks ago for twisting Calgary running back Ka’Deem Carey’s ankle under a pile.
Actions speak louder than words. Lawrence can apologize all he wants, but the reality is that he has demonstrated a pattern of behavior that is reckless and unacceptable. He needs to face harsher discipline from the league office.
Football is inherently unsafe. Players are at risk of sustaining an injury on every down — and that’s when everyone adheres to the rules.
The CFL needs to set an example the next time Lawrence makes an illegal hit. Letting him off easy does nothing to make the game safer or deter opponents from engaging in similar behavior — record or not.
What do you have on draft?
The Blue Bombers and Tiger-Cats put together a pair of excellent draft classes in May, taking full advantage of a strong crop of prospects.
Two Canadian rookies were listed in Friday’s starting lineup in guard Drew Desjarlais (fourth overall) and running back Maleek Irons (22nd overall). A number of other draftees — Jonathan Kongbo (fifth overall), Nikola Kalinic (tenth overall), and Kerfalla Emmanuel Exumé (70th overall) — filled key depth and rotational roles. The Ticats also scooped up a local offensive lineman in Jesse Gibbon (second overall) who many expect to start next season.
You have to draft well in the CFL if you want to win games. It’s little wonder that Winnipeg and Hamilton are at or near the top of their respective divisions when you look at the quality of players they’ve drafted in recent years.
One of the few highlights from Friday’s game was the induction of Bob Cameron as the twelfth member of IG Field’s Ring of Honour.
Former teammates Rod Hill, Brett MacNeil, Joe Poplawski, Stan Mikawos, and Trevor Kennard were on hand for the halftime ceremony. Cameron spoke eloquently before being given four footballs to punt into the stands as keepsakes for some lucky fans.
Cameron could simply have booted the balls into the nearest section, but instead jogged the entire circumference of the field to share the souvenirs evenly.
You've never seen a 'Ring of Honour' induction like this!
— CFL (@CFL) September 28, 2019
The 65-year-old also performed acrobatics on a moving vehicle like it was no big deal. What a legend.
Blocking the future
Drew Desjarlais and Patrick Neufeld have unseated Geoff Gray and Cody Speller from Winnipeg’s starting lineup.
Speller now serves as the sixth offensive lineman, while Gray has been moved to the one-game injured list. This move makes sense given Speller’s extensive experience at the centre position — if Michael Couture were injured in a game, Speller would be able to fill in rather seamlessly. Gray, meanwhile, has more history at the guard and tackle positions.
Winnipeg’s national offensive linemen are signed through the following years: Michael Couture, 2019; Patrick Neufeld, 2019; Geoff Gray, 2020; Cody Speller, 2020; Drew Desjarlais, 2021. Tui Eli has been moved between the active and practice rosters all season, which means he will likely have to sign a new contract when the year is over.
Provided the Bombers can get one or both of Couture and Neufeld to re-sign, the club’s Canadian content along the offensive line will be in good shape moving forward.
Winnipeg’s two starting American tackles — Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick — are pending free agents.
Home sweet home
The loss was Winnipeg’s first home defeat of the season, bringing their record to 6-1. The Bombers only need to win one of their remaining two home games to secure the best record in the seven-year history of IG Field.
The Blue Bombers last finished 7-2 at home in 2007 and 8-1 at home in 2002.
It’s hard to understate the importance of Winnipeg’s final four regular season games. The club (9-5) now sits third in the West Division and — with Trevor Harris on Edmonton’s six-game injured list — is unlikely to slide any further in the standings.
But winning consecutive postseason games on the road is tough under any circumstances — especially without a proven starting quarterback.
Getting a bye to the West Final is an essential step to ending Winnipeg’s 29-year Grey Cup drought. Can they win four games in a row — including two against Calgary?