Winnipeg – In the many years I have covered the Winnipeg Blue Bombers- 1973 was the first- I have seen many seasons end in bitter disappointment. But nothing quite like this. In a game the Bombers appeared to have under control from the get-go, a CFL West Division semi-final that seemed to be their’s, the Bombers wound up losing 32-31 to the B.C. Lions.
Leads of 25-6 and 28-12 were squandered, partly through the Bombers inability to play game changing defence, and partly through B.C.s significant offensive capabilities.
Much will be made of head coach Mike O’Shea’s decision to send out Justin Medlock for an impossible 61-yard field goal with 36 seconds left and the Bombers facing a third and 4 at the B.C. 53-yard line. And rightly so. Conventional football wisdom would suggest O’Shea would have been much wiser to try to convert the third down then try the field goal.
But let’s not forget that Winnipeg’s defence is culpable in the meltdown. The Lions put together 9 play drives for 75 and 82 yards after the Bombers had taken a 31-19 lead early in the fourth quarter. Those two drives gave the Lions 32 first downs and 503 yards of net offence. It is hard to win any game when your defence is giving up that much real estate. It’s a problem that has plagued the Bombers all season and one that will be a top priority to correct in the off-season.
It’s always hard to draw positives when a season ends the way this one did, but some perspective is required. The Bombers improved from 5-13 to 11-7 this year. And as devastating as Sunday’s West semi-final loss was, the Bombers made progress in 2016 that should carry over into 2017. The present is bleak, but the future is bright.