The Riders were ultimately beat by the better team.
Sometimes there isn’t much more to say than that. Yes, the green and white will look back at plenty of missed opportunities and wonder “what if?” However, you could say the exact same thing of the Blue Bombers, especially early in the first quarter.
At the half, you could have made an argument that the Riders should have been up a couple of touchdowns, at least, but the Bombers could have said the same thing.
So, perhaps despite an absurd amount of beautiful chaos — that we will talk about, of course — the game ended up being exactly what it should have been, just with fewer points.
Here’s the good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ 21-17 West Final loss in Winnipeg.
If there’s one thing you could say about this edition of the Saskatchewan Roughriders it’s that they’re scrappy as heck.
Duke Williams was the only player to have a big game with 108 yards on four receptions, including an incredible 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown, but he was also part of a big moment in this game that took points off the board when either Cody Fajardo overthrew him or Williams should have kept running. Either way, the play was a walk-in touchdown that was taken off the board and could have made a difference in the game.
There’s been a bunch of moments like that for this team this year, but they never really let it get to them. Fajardo went back to Williams later and that’s when he scored that long touchdown.
This wasn’t the most talented squad that’s ever been assembled, but they were more or less in every game and made their opponents earn it.
They did that against the Blue Bombers, the one team they hadn’t really been able to figure out this season.
The Riders still haven’t completely cleared that hurdle — and this isn’t the moral victories league — but they were themselves to the end. They gave the Bombers all they could handle, but it wasn’t quite enough.
Sometimes in the coin flip situation of a one-game playoff, that’s just what happens.
It’s hard to fault the defence in a game where they generated six turnovers, but yet again they got gashed along the ground by one of the league’s big running backs.
The Riders’ defence is an interesting bunch. At the end of the regular season, statistically, they had the best run defence in the league, but I was never really convinced they were that good. It was very boom or bust, and frankly, a number of teams in this league aren’t that dedicated to the run at all.
One thing that is sure about this unit is they did not have a good time against two of the league’s best running backs, and perhaps the league’s top two running teams. Andrew Harris and Ka’Deem Carey had big game after big game against the Riders. They got away with it last week against Calgary, but ultimately did not against the Bombers.
Harris finished the game with 136 yards along the ground, many of which came in the second half, helping calm down what was a chaotic Bombers’ squad through the game’s first 30 minutes.
Perhaps it’s all moot if the Riders cash in on the opportunities created by the defence early, but getting pushed around on the ground again went a long way towards making sure that Saskatchewan wasn’t headed to their first Grey Cup since 2013.
Boy, did this game have some dumb.
The Riders won the turnover battle 6-2, but didn’t win. That’s legitimately hard to do, but it’s not really that clear cut. Some of the mistakes led to other mistakes that led to other mistakes and it really feels like it all kind of came out in the wash at the end of the day.
Yeah, the Riders got an interception on the Bombers opening drive that led to nothing, but that should have been an easy touchdown for Nik Demski and then who knows what happens. Another lost fumble at the goal line by Drew Wolitarsky and a big return from Elie Bouka did lead to a William Powell rushing touchdown.
From there, we saw more interceptions, missed kicks, fumble luck, overthrows and receiver errors. It all went both ways. Both teams had all kinds of opportunities to take control of this game and didn’t, until Winnipeg finally did after Lauther’s missed kick. It was entertaining as hell in all its ugliness.
Then suddenly, late in the third quarter and into the fourth, a football game broke out as the teams exchanged touchdowns and that was also enjoyable, as most of the CFL playoffs have been. That’s something the league needed in the worst way.
Credit where it’s due
In this space and on Twitter, I’ve been fairly critical of TSN and their coverage of the CFL throughout the regular season.
When the playoffs come around, that’s clearly not the case.
Their pre-game coverage and the broadcasts of both division finals were exceptional and presents the league as the professional sport it is.
Because they do the playoffs and Grey Cup so well, maybe that’s why the regular season broadcasts can feel so underwhelming at times. We know what they’re capable of when they put all of their efforts into it.
To expect that level of coverage all season is perhaps unrealistic, but takings bits and pieces of it and incorporating that into the regular season could go a long way in helping some of the issues this league is facing.
It’s not a cure-all for sure, nor their biggest issue, but it’s something that can be done.