If there’s one thing you can say about the 2022 Saskatchewan Roughriders, it’s that there’s never been a dull moment.
Just when you thought maybe this team had been through it all this season, another curveball was thrown their way when several players and coaches came down with some kind of stomach bug leading up to the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon.
No surprise, they lost but given how things tend to go for the Riders in the rematch with the Bombers, the odds were stacked against them to begin with.
This loss was different because it was basically opposite day for the green and white, with an offence that, all things considered, looked pretty good and a defence that couldn’t keep Winnipeg from scoring.
Here’s the good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ seventh loss of the season.
A week ago, fellow 3DownNation contributor Brendan McGuire and I were pretty critical of decisions made by head coach Craig Dickenson and offensive coordinator Jason Maas in the Riders’ 20-18 loss to the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic.
In the name of fairness, both deserve credit for keeping the Riders competitive for a good portion of the Banjo Bowl.
With several players playing through some rather difficult circumstances, there was actually a few moments where the Riders made a game of it. Most of those came in the second quarter when Dickenson showed confidence in his team by going for it on a number of third downs.
On their second possession of the game early in the second quarter, Dickenson went for it on third down not once, but twice. The first came on a third-and-five at the Winnipeg 40 and then again on a third-and-three at the 24. The football gods rewarded Dickenson for being aggressive and making the right decisions with a touchdown, making it 13-6 at a time when it looked like Winnipeg was going to win 72-0.
Those decisions gave the offence some confidence and, until late in the game when nothing really mattered anymore, this may have actually been one of their best performances of the season.
Cody Fajardo continues to look like himself again, going 15-for-18 and 124 yards. He also rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown. Not exactly gaudy numbers, but he was efficient and didn’t make critical mistakes. Most of that came in the second quarter too, when the unit looked its best. The second half was more or less a write-off.
Dickenson’s process continued to be strong later when he went for it on a third-and-one at the Winnipeg 40-yard line. The play call and execution left a little to be desired, but it was still the right decision. Field goals were not going to beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, especially given the circumstances.
Later in the fourth, some wondered if Dickenson should have conceded a safety when the Riders were forced to punt from their own two-yard line. Dickenson ultimately kicked, as he should have.
First of all, you should never concede safeties and Dickenson pretty much never does. But also, when your opponent is scoring at will, gifting them points isn’t exactly a recipe for success. The two points aren’t worth the extra 10-15 yards the Riders might have gained. The Bombers ended up settling for a field goal, which would have made it a five-point decision had the Riders taken a knee in the end zone.
It feels very weird to be writing about the defence in a negative light, but here we go.
Other than the stomach issues, the biggest reason the Riders lost this game was the defence. No matter what else is going on, when your opponent scores on every meaningful drive and a few more after that, it’s safe to say you’re not going to win that game.
It was a rare performance to forget for a unit that has kept the Riders in a number of games this year. Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros was 21-for-25 for 273 yards and four touchdowns. The Bombers had three receivers with at least 60 yards receiving. The home team also rushed for 131 yards.
They essentially could do no wrong, and the Bombers certainly deserve a lot of credit for that.
Defensive coordinator Jason Shivers and his unit had no answers for the Bombers on Saturday, a week after holding Winnipeg to just 20 points with only three of those coming in the game’s final 30 minutes.
With that said, the defence’s game certainly isn’t something to panic about; stinkers happen to even the best of defensive units.
If it happens again in relatively short order? Well, that’s another issue.
While it’s not unusual for fans to make the five-and-a-half-hour drive from Regina to Winnipeg for a football game, you don’t often hear of players doing the same on game day.
That’s the situation that the Riders found themselves in with several players dealing with the stomach flu heading into the game. Quarterback Mason Fine, defensive back Jeremy Clark and fullback James Tuck were last-minute scratches because of the bug. Receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker never appeared in the game either, despite dressing.
It was reported that quarterback Jake Dolegala was able to get on a plane to Winnipeg to make it to the game on time. Two other players ended up having to make the drive and didn’t arrive at IG Field until the Banjo Bowl had already begun.
It’s certainly something I’ve never seen before and just another thing on an ever-growing list of weird things that are happening in Saskatchewan this season.