Winnipeg – The final chapter of a remarkable turnaround season hasn’t yet been written for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but their final home game of the 2016 CFL regular season certainly left Bomber fans with a sour taste in their mouths. Coming off a bye, and following a week of energetic practices, the Bombers were out of synch from early in the game until almost the very end, the result a 23-10 Ottawa RedBlacks win in front of 26,000 Investors Group Field viewers. A promising early Blue Bomber drive ended with an interception inside the Ottawa 10-yard line when Winnipeg quarterback Matt Nichols threw the ball before Clarence Denmark had finished his route. And that was a harbinger of things to come as the Bomber offence went on to have a wildly uneven night while the Winnipeg defence was often a step behind Ottawa receivers, 41-year old RedBlacks quarterback Henry Burris rolling up 336 passing yards. Winnipeg’s defence wasn’t much better against the run, Mossis Modu rambling for 125 yards and a 6 yard average. Not that the Bombers are strangers to giving up big chunks of yardage. The big difference in the game was the turnover category where Winnipeg has been so dominant this year. Against the RedBlacks, the Bombers were minus 3 on the takeaway giveaway front, coughing the ball up 5 times while only forcing 2 Ottawa turnovers. Five of the turnovers were interceptions thrown by Nichols. And in a very candid interview on the 680-CJOB post-game show, Nichols said he took fully responsibility for the loss, claiming his poor play was just too much for his teammates to overcome.
No one man is ever responsible for a loss in football, which is the ultimate team again. But there is no question that Nichols was outplayed by his counterpart, Burris. There is also little argument that the Bombers, as a team, were beat to the punch at virtually every turn by a more energetic and physical Ottawa team. It was a classic clunker by a team that had been playing good, entertaining football for a long period of time.
The win clinched first place in the East for the RedBlacks and left the Bombers to take a long, hard look in the mirror. After a 5-13 disaster in 2015, the Bombers have rebounded beautifully this year to double their win total with one game still to play. At 10-7, they will be in the playoffs. But, their hopes of a second place finish have now been left hanging by a thread as their loss coupled with BC’s win over Saskatchewan put the 11-6 Lions 2 points up on the Bombers. And with B.c. hosting Sask. in its finale next Saturday, the Lions look like a good bet to claim home field in the West semi-final. That will leave the Bombers third and visiting B.C. in the semi-final, provided they defeat the RedBlacks in the rematch Friday in Ottawa, or 4th and crossing over should the Bombers lose in Ottawa and the Edmonton Eskimos defeat Toronto in their last game. Either way, it looks like the Bombers will be going on the road in the playoffs, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Saturday’s loss to the RedBlacks left Winnipeg with a 4-5 record at Investors Group Field where they have played some of their worst football this season. Their 6-2 road mark suggests that playing in either Vancouver, Edmonton or Hamilton in a semi-final game might not be such a bad thing.
And I am fairly certain of one thing. The Blue Bombers absolutely cannot play much worse in future games than they did on SAturday afternoon against the RedBlacks.