Labour Day Classic proof: Blue Bombers are still Cody Fajardo kryptonite

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders/Electric Umbrella/Liam Richards

It was the other end zone but Cody Fajardo hit the crossbar again in the dying moments of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ loss to Winnipeg in the Labour Day Classic.

Déjà vu all over again from how the 2019 West Final ended. A fitting end to a miserable day for the Riders offence that looked nothing like the attack who led the league in scoring over the first three weeks of the season.

“Maybe that goal post was a little jealous because I went to the other one at the beginning of the year and kind of squashed our beef and then maybe it got a little jealous. So now that I’ve hit both of them, I should be good but no promises,” Fajardo said as he chuckled about the “cherry on top” for what proved to be the first rough day at the office in 2021.

There is no defence in the CFL that has made Fajardo look more like a backup, and less like a Most Outstanding Player candidate, than the Blue Bombers. Never was that more evident than in Sunday’s 23-8 loss to the Blue and Gold at Mosaic Stadium.

In the 22 games that Fajardo has started at quarterback for the Green and White, Sunday’s struggle was just the second time the Riders have failed to score an offensive touchdown. The other? The 2019 West Final loss to those same, dreaded Blue Bombers.

“The worst game I’ve played, definitely as a professional,” Fajardo said following the loss in which he threw for 211 yards, three interceptions and zero touchdowns.

The leader of Winnipeg’s star-studded defence, Willie Jefferson, could be seen chattering in the direction of Fajardo all game long, but he swears it never got under his skin.

“I kind of tune those things out. It’s just the competitive nature. I don’t know exactly what he said. Sometimes he’ll smile at me under the face mask and that’s just part of the game,” Fajardo said.

“Especially when they’re kicking our butt, it’s easy to talk crap when you’re kicking the other team’s butt. That’s just part of football and the best way to make people not talk crap is to play well and we didn’t. I definitely didn’t do that so I definitely deserved all the smack talk I could get out there because I played a terrible game.”

Winnipeg defensive coordinator Richie Hall and his unit clearly outmatched Roughriders’ offensive coordinator Jason Maas in what appears to be an emerging and concerning trend for an otherwise overachieving offence in Saskatchewan.

It remains to be seen which, if any, adjustments will be made for next Saturday’s Banjo Bowl rematch in The Peg. Especially given the fact that Fajardo, himself, admitted to taking some “pretty gnarly hits” including shots that caused pain in his shoulder.

It is worth mentioning there is a strong belief the impetus behind the Riders’ decision to replace Stephen McAdoo as offensive coordinator after the 2019 West Final was at least in part due to his failure to crack the code of a stingy Winnipeg defence.

McAdoo’s successor, Maas, hasn’t passed that test yet either and will have only a short week in the lab to cook up something different from anything the Roughriders have already thrown at the Blue Bombers so far.

That could prove to be difficult in a short week following a game in which Fajardo took several big hits, including one that had him slow to get up, wincing in pain and required attention from the Riders medical staff.

This defeat in combination with the playoff loss to Winnipeg at the end of last season has lowered the bar of expectations for Saskatchewan.

At least as low as the crossbar, anyway.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.