In a season of frustrating losses for the Stampeders so far, this one seemed less like the Stamps let one slip away than one they never grabbed onto from the get go.
Whether it was special teams miscues, or the offense continually stalling while the defense surrendered field goals, nothing seemed to be going the Stampeders way.
A late game substitution for Bo Levi Mitchell that led to a score will do nothing to quiet the growing concerns in Calgary that something is missing and needs to be fixed if there is any hope of salvaging this season.
In bad company
The Stampeders have matched their worst start to a season since 2004 at 2-5, and are now just one loss from matching the most amount of ticks in the ‘L’ column for a season since Dave Dickenson became head coach in 2016.
In a shortened season the losses are magnified that much more. So much more in fact, that even if the Stampeders were to run the table from now until the end of the regular season, this would still be the worst winning percentage the Stampeders have had under Dickenson.
Three phases of failure
For the first time after a loss this season, Dickenson did not say that the team was out-coached and when that was pointed out to him he replied: “I’m trying to be honest with you guys, and understand that I have to take some of the same blame that all these guys do, because I’m head coach.”
That recognition of where the blame lies only went so far though as he continued: “I did feel though, right from the get-go showed that we weren’t playing with confidence. We don’t even catch the first kick-off, coughed up two punts, and I didn’t think we took the field offensively with that same swagger.”
The disappointment train didn’t stop rolling there. “Defensively, we played alright, but not good enough. Did we cause any turnovers? Did we make any big plays? No.”
Finding the impossible
If I had told you there would be a legitimate quarterback debate within the fan base after this game, you would have likely thought it was in the Ticats dressing room discussing Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans.
Instead, for the first time since 2014, the Stampeders have some questions to answer under centre.
Bo Levi Mitchell went 16-of-28 for just 170 yards and one interception that bounced out of the hands of rookie Canadian Luther Hakunavanhu who was pressed into service following an injury to Kamar Jorden, he left the game with a tweaked hamstring in the first half.
Jake Maier replaced Mitchell with two minutes to go, and went 9-of-9 for 80 yards and a score against admittedly soft coverage from a Ticats team that was only interested in protecting the second score of their two-score lead at the time.
However, that didn’t mean Maier wasn’t facing the Ticats defensive line who had been interrupting Mitchell’s throws all night.
Speaking of the Ticat’s defensive line, they contributed heavily to the eight combined knockdowns of Mitchell’s throws.
It seemed anytime the Stamps were getting ready to grasp some offensive momentum, the flyswatter would come up and another throw would be smacked away to the turf.
Given that Mitchell leads the CFL in interceptions thrown, he might have been lucky only one was picked off.
Both Mitchell and Dickenson thought that there were open receivers on many of those plays and both mentioned technique as a way to potentially solve the issue.
“We either have to take a little bit more time, let the rush come to us and move a little bit, find a window instead of throwing it over top of them or try to make a quick jab and then throw around them. That’s the way I used to play because I couldn’t get it over them. Or we have to elevate our arm and get some air on the football.”
Mitchell unknowingly disagreed with one aspect of that assessment based on his view of the field.
“They are in a man-zone type coverage, so I can’t put too much air on those or the corner can drive down and take it away too. It’s the right throw, maybe negotiate my arm and try a different angle to try and get it to them.”
Rookie impresses with big catch and run
I already mentioned the bad spot for Luther Hakunavanhu, as a pass went off his hands for a Simoni Lawrence pick-six, but it wouldn’t be fair not to point out the spark he offered the Stampeders as he led to an early third quarter short yardage rushing TD by Maier.
Hakunavanhu seemingly took everyone by surprise including veteran TSN play-by-play man Rod Smith who took more than a moment trying to get the rookie’s name out as he caught a pass at the Hamilton 47, bounced off a tackler and took the ball agonizingly close to the house, being tackled on the one-yard line.
If Kamar Jorden misses any time, other TSN folks should be practicing his name in the mirror so they are ready.
Hakunavanhu finished the day with four catches and 88 yards, leading the team in the game.
This Rose has thorns
“Mike can’t do that. I think he needs to grow up,” Dickenson said after being asked about the unnecessary roughness penalty earned by Mike Rose.
Rose kicked Nickola Kalinic in the stomach and may have also punched him in the groin during a play that ended with an incomplete pass on second down while barely in Calgary territory.
The penalty resulted in a field goal for the Ticats a few plays later and all but killed the rest of the clock in the first half.
In one of the more definitive statements Dickenson made after the loss, he came down hard on the young defender.
“If he wants to continue that, he’ll be sitting on his own. He knows it, but it’s BS. If he does it again, he’s got to have consequences, he’s got to have something taken away from him, and he better figure it out real soon.”
Return team anything but special
There is a moment in almost every football comedy where the QB throws a ball so hard it jams into the face mask on a receivers helmet for an inevitable first down and great frivolity. The Stampeders punt returners weren’t laughing however as both Richard Leonard and Markeith Ambles saw the ball bounce off their respective helmets and into the Ticats hands.
The opening kick-off went off Daniel Williams leg for a four-yard loss on the return. Williams, playing in just his second ever game, and being asked to touch the ball for the first time, did better on his other two returns, but the tone had been set.
On the other side, the cover teams were sparkling, causing a turnover on a bobbled punt from Frankie Williams, and holding the prolific returner to just 27 yards on eight total returns.
Week after week, the Stamps return squad, led on this night by Brandon Dozier with three tackles, has been the most consistent unit this year, consistently hemming in players within a few steps of them catching the ball.
And after the seventh game they rested
The bye week couldn’t come at a better time for this struggling franchise, the last to get the week off, although Edmonton’s was outbreak-related rather than scheduled.
Stampeder fans are hoping that the team can work the post-bye week magic they have shown during the Hufnagel era, as they will face off against the Riders at home on October 2.
The winning must start there, or the season could well be written off — Dickenson put it pretty bluntly.
“Really the players decide what we have for the rest of the year. The players decide if we are going to split up, or if we are going to stay together and plow through this and find a path to success.”