Stampeders beat themselves: five thoughts on handing Winnipeg a victory

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

It was legacy night in Calgary and the team celebrated the 1998 Grey Cup winning team from Calgary that finally got over the hump after several seasons of falling short.

It was cold and windy at McMahon Stadium for the 20,135 in attendance and the cold was emphasized by the bitter feelings the fans left with after yet another game slipped away from this team.

That is what has quickly become this team’s legacy through the first half of the year. The Stampeders repeatedly cost themselves points and lost a one-score game, falling 19-18 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The old adage in football is that five plays decide who wins or loses and so I thought I would focus on what I felt were the five times the Stampeders could have won this game.

For this week, I’m drawing inspiration from the heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch, who have the right band name and song titles to express how the game played out:

A Little Bit Off

I have often sung the praises of Rene Paredes in this space and rightfully so. The 10-year veteran has never missed a game and is the career accuracy leader in CFL history, having recently passed the 2,000-point threshold.

On this night, Paredes hit six field goals, yet again accounting for all of Calgary’s offensive points, but missed a pair of kicks, from 45 and 50 yards respectively, that would have made the difference on the scoreboard.

The first miss was into a stiff wind and went off the upright after stalling in the breeze, while the second seemed to be steered just wide at the last moment by an inopportune gust.

No one in the world would suggest that Paredes was responsible for the loss, but if he does in this game what he has done throughout his career, the Stamps would have snapped a four-game winning streak for Winnipeg in Calgary.

Darkness Settles In 

The Stampeders have now gone three full games without a touchdown and this one lands at the feet of Luther Hakunavanhu.

The third-year Canadian pass-catcher was wide open on the five-yard line in the Stamps’ only trip into the red zone and dropped a very catchable ball.

While there are no guarantees on the football field, it would have been a near certainty that the Stamps would have had Tommy Stevens plunging across the goal-line moments later if Luther was unable to score himself.

It was yet another example of a team that is just not able to make the play in pressure situations.

Head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson didn’t put much stock in staying close to a good opponent, especially after last week’s blowout to the B.C. Lions, saying he was proud of his club’s effort but an essential piece to winning is still missing.

“The negative is the confidence isn’t there. Until you get that confidence, you just don’t play with that same swagger or anything that says ‘I’m going to make this play.’ A few guys did, a lot of guys actually, but when you play a great opponent, and you give them a few plays here or there or miss a few opportunities, you lose.”

This was the second straight week that Hakunavanhu was targeted at a crucial time and didn’t come away with the ball, with the last week featuring a third-down incompletion in field goal range with the game still in doubt.

Wrong Side of Heaven

The only touchdown of the game did happen with the Stampeders’ offence on the field but unfortunately for Calgary, it was scored by Winnipeg’s Demerio Houston who jumped a Jake Maier offering and took it back for six points.

It was the drive immediately following the Hakunavanhu drop, as well as being the last play of the third quarter.

It seemed to take a bit of the life out of a Stampeders team that had been stymieing Winnipeg to that point defensively, keeping Bombers’ backup QB Dru Brown out of the endzone.

“It just seems to be one of those years for me,” Maier said after the game. “I don’t feel like I make a ton of mistakes, but when they do happen, they happen to be pretty tragic. I keep working my ass off to fix that and understand risk and reward on certain plays and decisions, so I take full accountability on that.”

Maier finished the game having completed only 11 of 24 passes but did throw for 190 yards, a drastic improvement of his depth of target and yards per completion as he hit several receivers downfield.

I wrote last week about the Stampeders’ playcalling and the continued use of the unsuccessful screen pass. While it would be asinine to take any credit for that play being used infrequently, if at all this week, Maier said he was happy with how the game plan unfolded.

“I think we had a good game plan. We know how good they are with their pass rush and we mixed up some play actions to slow them down, where they can’t just tee off on us, and do the best we can to generate something down the field. I’ve always been a fan of the play action pass and those types of things and it was cool to execute a handful of them today.”

Hard to See

Tre Roberson dropped a sure interception and it was one of several times Stampeders defenders had the ball hit their hands.

Brandon Dozier also made a great break on a ball that could have been a pick-six of his own, only to see it fall incomplete.

Either of those passes turning from knockdowns into interceptions would have given the ball to the Stampeders inside field goal range and could have led to the game-winning points being scored.

In what was a bounce-back game for the defence, they held Dru Brown and the Winnipeg offence to just 247 total yards and collected four sacks. That will offer some relief to a team that has struggled at times this season to keep teams off the field.

Brighter Side of Grey

Tommylee Lewis was all over the field in the return game and gave Calgary great field position with almost every opportunity.

When asked about Lewis after the game, Dickenson initially focused on the play that didn’t happen as Lewis failed to haul in a long ball that was perfectly thrown by Maier for what would have put the Stampeders into field goal range.

“He had a big drop as well,” Dickenson began when discussing Lewis’s efforts but was quick to heap praise on the CFL rookie.

“The one thing about Tommy is that I think he’s just playing at a different speed out there. The look in his eyes…he’s playing to win. He’s got the confidence, and hopefully, it rubs off on the other guys.”

Lewis picked up 237 return yards in the game, averaging more than 18 yards per punt return and more than 30 yards per kick return.

Wash It All Away

The Stampeders have now fallen to 3-7 on the season but remain firmly in the playoff hunt, just a game back against Saskatchewan and not overtly threatened yet by any crossover potential after a Hamilton loss to Edmonton on Thursday.

Next up is the Toronto Argonauts, whom the Stampeders upset 20-7 earlier this season, and still remain the only team to beat the defending Grey Cup champions.

Game time is at 7:30 p.m. EDT from Toronto.

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Go Stamps Go Show Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.