The Calgary Stampeders rolled into BC Place Stadium as the worst CFL team in 23 years to qualify for the playoffs and when the final whistle blew, the score reflected that reality.
In front of a raucous crowd, the Lions made a meal of the Stampeders, winning by a score of 41-30. Below are my thoughts on the game.
The Stampeders offered an initial glimmer of hope for their fans as they looked to repeat a blowout of their own in Vancouver from a few weeks ago with a fast touchdown following the opening kickoff.
Calgary scored in just three plays with a Ka’Deem Carey run sandwiched between two long passes. The first went to Reggie Begelton for 43 yards on the first play from scrimmage, while the second flew 32 yards before Marken Michel corralled it for the go-ahead score.
It was exactly the type of start the visitors needed and the defence immediately followed suit with a two-and-out, forcing a punt.
It was hard to imagine a better start for the Stampeders but on the second possession, Jake Maier threw his first interception in five games, which seemed to take the wind out of the sails of the road club.
If you only looked at the box score, you’d think that Jake Maier had a pretty decent day at the ballpark. He threw for 302 yards and completed 23-of-33 pass attempts with a pair of touchdowns to balance out two interceptions. However, that wouldn’t tell the full story of his performance.
The third-year passer’s second interception came on a Hail Mary attempt with 16 seconds left and the game out of reach. His second touchdown also came in garbage time.
Many of Maier’s passes were short of the first-down marker, as they often were during the regular season, which begs the question of who is to blame.
As this was a consistent feature of the Calgary offence, should the play-caller be blamed for dialing up screen passes on second-and-two? Or is Maier to blame as throws to receivers short of the first down marker?
When looking at the opposite sideline, Vernon Adams Jr. went for over 400 yards and consistently found targets down the field. He also added 54 yards on the ground when his receivers were covered.
It calls the system of offensive co-ordinator Pat Delmonico and the play-calling of quarterbacks coach Mark Mueller into serious question, and it’s one that must be answered in the off-season.
Can’t crack under pressure if there is no pressure
Two weeks ago, the Stampeders chased Vernon Adams Jr. from the game after chasing him out of the pocket through much of the first three quarters. The team finished the day with four sacks and generated six total turnovers. This was accomplished without much blitzing as the Stamps were able to get home regularly using just three and four-man pressure.
The Lions must have studied the tape closely as Calgary was only able to get to Adams once and generated just a single turnover in this game.
For the most part, Adams was able to sit in the pocket and rip the Stampeders’ defence apart, escaping pressure and taking off running when needed.
After Calgary forced an early two-and-out, B.C. scored touchdowns on their next four drives. The Stamps only forced the Lions to punt on two occasions, which isn’t nearly enough in a playoff game.
The type of moment everyone dreads occurred in the fourth quarter as the Lions kicked off following a touchdown that gave them a 38-19 lead. Peyton Logan fielded the ball and tried to get the edge on his return when he collided at full speed with B.C.’s Jack Hinsperger.
Both players stayed down on the field for several minutes before walking off under their own power. It appeared as though the Lions’ seventh-round pick out of the University of Waterloo was knocked unconscious on the play and the medical cart momentarily made its way onto the field.
The NFL has largely done away with kickoff returns over the last few years and plays like this were one of the primary reasons for the switch.
While I wouldn’t advocate changing the rules in the CFL as a reflection of this play, there might be calls from others to do exactly that, which would be a shame. The CFL’s kick return rules are the best in all of professional football and while it’s unfortunate that plays like this happen, they don’t happen often enough to be of major concern.
Some shining moments
It wasn’t all bad for the Stampeders as Reggie Begelton caught seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Rene Paredes was perfect, hitting all five of his field goal attempts and both converts in what may be the all-time great’s final performance.
Ka’Deem Carey averaged 5.4 yards per carry, collecting a total of 75 yards on the ground and adding another 11 yards on two catches.
All of those players are expected to make plays, however, which means that my play of the game came from an unexpected source.
Bryce Bell, who was expected to be Calgary’s sixth man along the offensive line this season before being pressed into a starting role at tackle, made a catch for a first down when the game was still very much in doubt.
Some trickery in the Western Semi-Final 👀
Stampeders Offensive Tackle Bryce Bell makes a big 1st down catch😅 pic.twitter.com/5w9UtbhB5a
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) November 4, 2023
It was Bell’s first catch of the season and, at a bare minimum, is a top-five candidate for the Stampeders’ “most creative play call” of the year.
The catch was nice but making Marcus Sayles miss a tackle was even more impressive. Clearly, the big man’s got moves.
Time to pack
For the fourth season in a row, the Calgary Stampeders are once again exiting the season without a playoff victory.
Head coach and general manager Dave Dickenson will have a herculean task this off-season as 3DownNation‘s upcoming article lists 38 pending free agents for the team.
The roster could either be brought back or wholly rebuilt in the offseason, possibly in the most dramatic way since John Hufnagel took over the team in 2008.
While the Stampeders played much of the season with multiple starters on the six-game injured list, the fact remains that the depth of this team may have been shallower than any year in recent memory.
The cupboards, which used to overflow with talented players, seemed depleted this year and some of the stock wasn’t good enough to begin with.
The team is facing many questions and how they’re answered will go a long way towards deciding whether this club can rebound from a terrible year or if this is a sign of things to come.