Bombers close out regular season with Cowtown collapse (& 14 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Calgary Stampeders by a score of 13-12 in minus-eight degree weather at McMahon Stadium on Saturday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

The defence rests

Winnipeg’s defence did a spectacular job of limiting Calgary’s offence through three quarters, allowing just 101 yards from scrimmage. The Stampeders did not cross midfield until Ante Milanovic-Litre caught a short pass from Jake Maier and took it 35 yards down the right sideline with 6:24 remaining in the game.

Maier connected with Luther Hakunavanhu for a 57-yard touchdown with just under two minutes remaining, preventing Winnipeg from breaking a CFL record for the fewest points allowed during the fourth quarter in a season. The Blue Bombers went two-and-out after receiving the ensuing kickoff before Rene Paredes kicked a 27-yard game-winning field goal.

Winnipeg’s defence allowed just six points during the fourth quarter over their first twelve games, though they allowed 24 points in the final frame over the past two weeks. Allowing 32 points (2.3 points per game) in the fourth quarter over the course of a season is still very impressive, though it’s not good enough to make history.

It was a disappointing night for a team that played almost all of its starters, albeit not for the entire night. The defence is hardly to blame for the loss, but the late collapse will sting heading into the playoffs.

“We lost and nobody likes it,” O’Shea told the media after the game. “That pretty well sums it up.”

Here’s Johnny!

If Johnny Augustine isn’t a starting running back in the CFL next season then something is wrong.

The third-year Canadian was sensational on Saturday night, recording 23 carries for 148 yards. He had 121 rushing yards by halftime and continues to get better each time he gets an opportunity to play. He called the game “bittersweet” because he would rather have finished with a win than a bunch of yardage.

One could argue that Augustine’s success has come as a result of playing behind Winnipeg’s stellar offensive line, but consider the club’s final yard-per-carry averages for the 2021 season.

Andrew Harris — 5.4

Brady Oliveira — 4.6

Johnny Augustine — 7.1

Augustine’s sample size is relatively small — he finished the year with 40 carries — but there’s no denying that he’s earned the opportunity to be a full-time starter in 2022 regardless of whether or not he stays in Winnipeg.

Sit down, Zach

Collaros indicated after the game that it was O’Shea’s decision to remove him from the field after four possessions, which he understood. He also credited the offensive line with keeping him upright and preventing him from taking any big hits.

“He was seeing the field well, seeing the defences really well,” said O’Shea. “It just seemed like he had played enough snaps for us.”

I thought O’Shea’s decision to play Zach Collaros on Saturday was crazy. It’s clear that Collaros was happy to play, but the 33-year-old has been the best player in the league this season and just welcomed his second child. If there was ever a week to protect your starting quarterback, this was it.

Winnipeg lost safety Brandon Alexander on what appeared to be some friendly fire from teammate Thiadric Hansen on special teams. It isn’t possible to rest everyone, but Alexander didn’t play last week and he didn’t have to play this week. It’ll be a huge loss for Winnipeg as Alexander isn’t available for the West Final — he’s easily the best safety in the league.

How they Dru it up

Aside from an early fumble — more on that in a moment — Dru Brown was a little shaky in his CFL debut, completing 7-of-14 pass attempts for 49 yards. He was off-target at times but didn’t put the ball in harm’s way and made plays with his legs, rushing seven times for 44 yards.

O’Shea indicated after the game that Brown made some mistakes that one would expect from a quarterback seeing their first live action, but was pleased at how he corrected them as the game progressed.

Regardless of whether or not McGuire is healthy for the West Final, I’d suggest that Brown is the best option to serve as the backup quarterback for the postseason.

I fought the Law-ler

Kenny Lawler caught four passes for 41 yards, finishing the season as the league’s only receiver to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. The six-foot-three, 197-pound target is the first member of the Blue Bombers to lead the CFL in receiving yards since Milt Stegall in 2002.

O’Shea indicated that Lawler’s command of the playbook and his understanding of CFL defences have grown “quite a bit” since the 2019 season, which helped him become a dominant receiver in his second season with Winnipeg.

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson said earlier this year that the biggest jump in player development occurs when they move from their first CFL season to their second. Lawler would be a perfect example of this — he was good as a rookie in 2019, but became arguably the best receiver in the league in 2021.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how the level of play in the CFL this year has been lacking, which is warranted. Players like Lawler give me hope that the 2022 season will see a return to the league’s high-flying ways as a massive crop of rookies move into their second CFL seasons.

Some players I expect to hit a new level in 2022 include B.C. quarterback Nathan Rourke, Edmonton linebacker Grant McDonald, Calgary quarterback Jake Maier, Saskatchewan defensive tackle Garrett Marino, Saskatchewan receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker, Winnipeg defensive back DeAundre Alford, Hamilton receivers Steven Dunbar Jr. and Tim White, and Toronto offensive lineman Peter Nicastro.

Rose to the occasion

Boundary cornerback Winston Rose had a nice bounce-back game on Saturday, keeping star receiver Reggie Begelton in check. He made a nice knockdown in the third quarter which should boost his confidence heading into the playoffs.

Rose allowed two touchdown passes last week working against Eugene Lewis and told the media this past week that he was disappointed with his game, particularly considering he allowed just one touchdown over the entire 2019 season. Hopefully his performance against Calgary is evidence that last week’s struggles were merely a blip.

Sssssssergio!

Sergio Castillo connected on four-of-five field goal attempts, including three from beyond 45 yards. He missed a 52-yard attempt wide right, but the wind may have been a factor.

Fans were hoping that Castillo would solidify the kicking game in Bomberland and it appears he has, connecting on 77.8 percent of his attempts since joining the club. Could he be better? Yes, but he’s been a major improvement over his predecessors.

Big man hustle

Dru Brown fumbled on his first career CFL drop back and the ball was recovered by defensive back Javien Elliott with a clear route to the end zone. 315-pound offensive lineman Tui Eli came out of nowhere to chase Elliott down, making the tackle at Calgary’s 41-yard line.

It was a remarkable effort without which Elliott would likely have scored a touchdown. Instead, Winnipeg got the ball back just three plays later after the Stamps went two-and-out.

YouTube didn’t let me embed the video, but click here to watch a 325-pound Larry Allen chase down a linebacker to prevent a pick-six in 1994. It’s one of the most remarkable plays you’ll ever see.

Extra Sprinkles

Saturday’s game was the first for Calgary defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle, who made two tackles from his interior spot.

If the Grey Cup was awarded to the team that signed the rookie class with the best names, the Stampeders would win it for sure. Sprinkle probably has the best name, but only by a hair over Cassanova McKinzy, Tyson Middlemost, and D.J. Killings.

Recorded history

Winnipeg has finished the 2021 CFL season with an 11-3 recording, which is unofficially their fifth-best single-season winning percentage since they adopted the name “Blue Bombers” in 1937.

The club went 14-2 in 1960 (.875), 13-3 in 1961 (.813), 13-3 in 1958 (.813), and 10-2 in 1939 (.833). I believe the 2021 season is next at 11-3 (0.786).

The club had a perfect season in 1935, though the regular season consisted of just three games against the Victoria Bisons. Judging by the scores of those games, Victoria was awful.

Bench boss

O’Shea has now coached the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for 122 regular season games, posting a 67-55 record (.549). Assuming the CFL returns to a full 18-game schedule next season, he will surpass Cal Murphy (138 games) for second on the club’s all-time list behind Bud Grant (144 games).

O’Shea’s winning percentage doesn’t crack the top five but is still pretty impressive considering the team went 12-24 (0.333) in his first two seasons.

COVID-19

The Canadian federal government will start denying entry to unvaccinated amateur or professional athletes as of Jan. 15, 2022, which could obviously have a large effect on next CFL season.

Mike O’Shea indicated that his team was 99 percent partially vaccinated and 98 percent fully vaccinated in mid-October, which presumably means that they are now at least 99 percent fully vaccinated. I don’t think these new regulations will cause Winnipeg any trouble in 2022, though some of the CFL’s American players remain unvaccinated.

Teams have been extremely tight-lipped regarding the identities of their unvaccinated players, so feel free to read a little bit into recent roster moves. If a player suddenly hits the suspended list in the postseason, it likely stems from a vaccination issue.

Buh-bye, Bisons

The University of Manitoba Bisons lost the Hardy Cup to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Saturday afternoon by a score of 45-17. It’s a shame their season is over, but Brian Dobie’s club overcame a ton of injuries and obstacles to make a respectable playoff run. Congratulations to them.

Huskies’ running back Adam Machart ran all over the Bisons, recording 20 carries for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Keep that name in mind when the 2022 CFL Draft rolls around. Machart is small — five-foot-eight, 185 pounds — and lacks elite straight-line speed, but he’s a great player. The team that drafts him will be getting a steal.

Curling

The 2021 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials got underway on Saturday, which is extremely exciting for curling fans like me. The field is much stronger than the one that will compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which is a testament to the quality and depth of Canadian curling.

I’m particularly excited to see how the Manitoba trio of Jennifer Jones, Kerri Einarson, and Tracy Fleury perform on the women’s side. It’s entirely possible that they’ll be the three playoff teams come the end of the week — they’re that good.

True story: the 2015 Grey Cup in Winnipeg was my first opportunity to spend an extended period of time with Drew Edwards, who was the editor of 3DownNation at the time. One night we found ourselves at a sports bar for dinner and a Toronto Raptors game was on television.

“Big basketball fan?” he asked.

“I’ll watch anything, but football and curling are easily my two top sports,” I said. He shook his head slowly.

“The CFL and curling? Hodgey, you are such a f***ing Manitoban.”

He said it with love and I still laugh about it to this day.

Next up

The Blue Bombers (11-3) are on a bye this upcoming week while the Calgary Stampeders (8-6) and Saskatchewan Roughriders (9-5) meet in the West Semi-Final for the right to play Winnipeg in the West Final. Calgary won the season series against Saskatchewan 2-1 and both are entering the playoffs having won four of their last five games.

The long-range forecast is calling for a temperature of minus-five feeling like minus-ten with a slight wind on Sunday, Dec. 5. Considering the time of year, I think Blue Bombers fans will count that as a win.

Winnipeg hasn’t hosted the West Final since 1972, so get a ticket if you want to see history being made live. Don’t forget a device that can stream CJOB, though, as it’ll be the last game the legendary Bob Irving will call before he retires following the season.

Source: 3downnation.com

Bombers close out regular season with Cowtown collapse (& 14 other thoughts)