Lack of finish costs Riders a shot at the Grey Cup (and 10 other thoughts)

Photo courtesy: Matt Smith

It was a script we’d seen all season, but this time it had a different ending.

The Riders were set up for yet another magical finish — twice — in the final three minutes of the West Final against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but unlike previous games this season, the green and white fell short.

In a sense, perhaps Winnipeg had the Riders exactly where they wanted them at the end of the game as the Riders were unable to finish drives all night long and it ultimately ended their season.

Both the Riders and Bombers kicked four field goals and a rouge. The difference in the game was one touchdown by Winnipeg and the Riders inability to do the same.

It’s not like the Riders didn’t have their chances.

Twice they were on the one-yard line and failed to find the end zone. Both times offensive coordinator Stephen McAdoo was his own worst enemy with some serious overthinking.

Bryan Bennett did his job to set up the team on the one-yard line, but there was no need to keep him in the game unless you were planning to continue with a sneak. Instead, Bennett was in the shotgun for some reason and got his wires crossed with William Powell and they went backwards.

Back at the one-yard line a little later, McAdoo had Fajardo throw on first down, rolling away, shrinking the field in the process. Then he decides to run twice. It probably should have been done the other way around. Pound it with Powell a couple of times and then play action on third down if you don’t get it.

After a ridiculous finish, the Riders were even gifted a third chance at the 10-yard line and didn’t capitalize.

That’s without even talking about some other drives that stalled. Of Brett Lauther’s four field goals, only one was longer than 35 yards.

There’s no question that the Bombers defence deserves a bunch of credit for stepping up and making the plays when they were needed but given just how many opportunities the Riders had, they should have at least found their way into the end zone at least once, probably twice.

Instead they didn’t, and it’s on to 2020.

Don’t blame the D

All week long much of the conversation heading into this game — besides Cody Fajardo’s back — was about the Bombers running game.

Last week, they found a way to gash the Calgary Stampeders, leading them to victory and a date with the Riders.

I think if you told most people the Riders would have held Winnipeg to just 68 yards rushing earlier this week, then most would say they probably won the game. The Riders did a great job bottling up Chris Streveler and Andrew Harris all game.

It’s not all good though

Where they could have been better defensively was in the secondary. It wasn’t a good night.

Darvin Adams and Nic Demski both had receptions of greater than 40 yards. Adams had a game-high 63-yard reception in the first half. There were some other plays that landed incomplete or called back by penalty.

Simply put, they were beat deep far too often. Was that in part due to the attention up front? Perhaps, but that also doesn’t excuse the number of Bomber receivers that got behind coverage.

While you can’t blame the defence for the loss, keeping the explosive plays to a minimum would have made a big difference.

He’s still got a ways to go

Clock management has been an issue for head coach Craig Dickenson all season and it came up again in the West Final.

Before the half, the coach decided to decline a penalty giving Winnipeg a rouge. That made it a seven-point game. On its own it’s not the worst decision. Fajardo was able to lead the team to about mid-field after that but that’s as far as they got before the clock expired.

A time out could have been in order at one point to save some time. It could have given the team more of a shot at getting a field goal, which could have made a big difference at the end of the game.

The fake

One of the cooler moments was actually on a punt return.

In the fourth quarter, the Bombers were forced to punt away and everyone went one way, while the ball went the other way, except for Nick Marshall.

That could have been the touchdown the Riders needed if Marshall was able to pull away or get another block.

Odds and ends

– I can’t imagine what’s really going through Zach Collaros’ head right now. It’s been such a wild year for the former Rider quarterback. From being injured, to not playing in Toronto and a trade to Winnipeg has him playing in the Grey Cup for the first time since 2014. It’s a remarkable story that’s for sure.

– As for #FajardoWatch2019, he told reporters after the loss that he played through the game with two torn oblique muscles. It’s hard to say exactly how much it effected his play, perhaps he could have got more on his one throw that was intercepted. He did take some hits and never really appeared to be in serious discomfort, though.

– Overall, this year’s CFL playoffs have to be seen largely as a positive for the league. All but one game has sold-out, both of last week’s games drew over a million viewers on average (if you include RDS’ numbers in the East Semi-Final.)

We don’t know what TV numbers will be like this week just yet, but you have to imagine this one might be the highest rated game of the season to date. Maybe we don’t need to move the season up or move playoff games off of Sunday?

– For as wild as that finish was, it felt a little anti-climactic with Fajardo hitting the field goal post. I don’t remember a game ending like that, unless it was a field goal attempt. Something former Rider kicker Chris Milo knows all too well.

– I’m still stunned that Mike O’Shea lost his challenge in the first half. It looked very much like Fajardo was well over the line of scrimmage.

– This year’s Grey Cup is already being dubbed the #DroughtBowl as someone’s long Grey Cup Championship drought is going to end. I originally picked Hamilton over Winnipeg before the season started, so I’ll probably stick with it now. Should be a good one.