WINNIPEG – Yikes.
The 2016 Winnipeg Blue Bombers were supposed to be better than this. They have been better than this. That’s how they found themselves in position to play for a home playoff game.
But they lost control of their fate in an emphatic way, dropping a 23-10 decision to the visiting Redblacks in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score would indicate.
The Bombers now need some help if they want to host another game in 2016, while Ottawa clinched the East Division and a first-round bye with the victory.
The game spiraled out of control early, as Henry Burris tore apart the Bombers defence with pinpoint accuracy. The wily vet led two touchdown drives in Ottawa’s first three possessions, capping both off with two-point converts. Within a blink, the Blue Bombers found themselves down 16-0, and they never recovered.
It was certainly a game to forget for Matt Nichols. Sure, he completed 35/46 passes but considering the volume of passes, his 289 yard total seems low. But the most alarming stat: three first half interceptions. He had only five all year coming in.
“I’m definitely going to take that loss. Definitely chose a bad time to play my worst game of the season,” Nichols reflected after the game. “The defensive did a heck of a job holding them. That’s more than enough for us to win. It’s my job to score points and didn’t do that. Overall, look at the stat sheet. It doesn’t look that great. I was just a hair off on a few things. We just kept finding ways to not put points on the board, and that falls on my shoulders.”
Nichols was outplayed by Burris, who finished 23/33 for 338 yards to go along with a pick and a rushing TD. The Bombers also allowed Mossis Madu to rush for 125 yards.
The Redblacks outgained Winnipeg 457 yards to 376, but the Bombers final stats should be taken with a grain of salt. They drove 101 yards for a touchdown with only ten seconds left, and the final drive accounted for over a quarter of their total yards.
The turnover battle has been the key catalyst for Winnipeg’s ten wins thus far, but today they lost the battle in a big way, giving the ball away five times.
“I think we just didn’t get the turnovers we usually get. Just as a team in general, I don’t we came out with the intensity we expected to come out with,” explains Chris Randle. “We gotta be way more consistent than that. It’s on us to figure it out. We won those ten games off our physicality, and we got to get back to that. We’re mad but not down. We believe in ourselves.”
It was essentially a game that looked more like the Bombers of recent years than the one that clinched a playoff spot for the first time in five seasons. In the end, it may have cost Winnipeg a home playoff game.
“ We didn’t play well enough, all three phases. I think early on I don’t think we challenged the receivers enough on the defensive side. They beat us, credit to them,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “We weren’t sharp, we didn’t execute, we didn’t play as tough as we needed to play. There’s no flushing this one. This is one loss, but it’s not a pretty one, it’s pretty disappointing for everyone.”
If the Bombers don’t end up hosting a playoff game, it may not be a bad thing: the team finishes the season with a 4-5 home record, yet are 6-2 away from Investors Group Field.
But the playoffs are a different animal. They can still get a home date if they win in Ottawa next week but need BC to lose one of their final two games.
They’ll lick their wounds, check the film and regroup before heading to the nation’s capital for their final game of the regular season Friday night at 6 p.m.