Try as they might, battle as they did, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were simply not as good as the Calgary Stampeders on Saturday.
They played well at times, fought hard till the final whistle and put up 33 points, but also had some familiar shortcomings and did not execute in the clutch.
It was an exciting, entertaining football game that featured Winnipeg’s dynamic rushing attack and Calgary’s high-powered passing game.
In the end, the latter won out — it ended 37-33 for the Stamps — and the final result was another loss for a Bombers team that is now 2-5 since Sept. 1 and 10-7 overall.
A once highly promising season has turned into a Grey Cup long shot.
The Bombers are still a good, scrappy football team but they’re not playing at an elite level right now.
Not when they have virtually no passing game to speak of and not when their defence can’t defend well enough against the pass. Calgary quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell fed the Bombers secondary its lunch on Saturday and that’s not the first time a top quarterback has done so this season.
Though a miracle could happen to change things, the Bombers seem destined to open the CFL West Division playoffs on the road, either at Calgary or Saskatchewan (both now 11-5).
To get a home playoff game, they’d need to beat Calgary in Winnipeg on Friday night and hope the Stamps lose to the 5-12 B.C. Lions in their final game on Nov. 2.
Calgary can still finish first in the West with two wins, so they’ll be plenty motivated.
On the bright side, no matter what happens on Friday, the Bombers get a bye in the last week of the season and should be good and rested when the playoffs begin.
They’re going to need it.
Quarterback Chris Streveler, who is a terrifically exciting player but has done little to prove himself as a CFL passer, could barely walk after Saturday’s game and several other players were banged up.
That could give head coach Mike O’Shea a chance to get veteran Zach Collaros some action on Friday, though in Saturday’s game he went with rookie Sean McGuire when Streveler came out for a few plays.
O’Shea is running out of time to get this team on track and reluctance to use Collaros, whom the Bombers acquired at the trade deadline from Toronto, could come back to haunt him.
Once 8-2, the Bombers will most likely have to win two games on the road to make it to the Grey Cup and possibly end a 28-season championship drought. Can they possibly do that with a banged-up Streveler at quarterback? Can they do it with a pivot who is all heart but has a questionable arm and has thrown 14 interceptions? Can they do it without ever stretching the field and just relying on a punishing run game? Can they outscore teams that way when their own pass defence gives up so many yards and points?
They had 191 yards on the ground Saturday and most times a team puts up that kind of number, it wins. The Bombers are different though, because they rarely come close to an acceptable number through the air (134 yards on Saturday).
Still, O’Shea’s track record suggests he is likely to go with what has brought his team this far.
If they go one-and-done in the playoffs, surely the Bombers will have to consider a coaching change.
O’Shea has had six years to get this right in Winnipeg, and while he has certainly made the Bombers into contenders with four straight 10-plus win seasons and playoff appearances, he has not ended that Grey Cup drought and that’s really all that matters.
A big shakeup could be in the offing and it would be fair to say no job is safe.
Of course, there’s a still a chance the Bombers will get hot at the right time and make it to the Grey Cup in Calgary.
They’re battlers for sure and they’ve proven an ability to win games. They certainly could have won Saturday, in a very difficult environment in Calgary.
They won on the road in the playoffs last year in Saskatchewan and it’s not out of the question that they could do it again. They’re close enough to both Calgary and Saskatchewan to suggest an upset is possible.
But it really shouldn’t be this way and O’Shea has to answer for that.
The Bombers were the class of the league in the first half, when Matt Nichols was healthy. They have the most dynamic running back in the league in Andrew Harris and a dominant defensive star in Willie Jefferson.
They should be 12-5 right now, but blew two 20-plus point leads to lose games to the lowly Toronto Argos and the Montreal Alouettes.
They frittered away first place and likely have done the same for a home playoff game.
A completion of the collapse in the playoffs would surprise no one.
Calgary, 11-5 (2) — at Winnipeg Oct. 25, at B.C. Nov. 2
Saskatchewan, 11-5 (2) — at Edmonton Oct. 26, vs. Edmonton Nov. 2
Winnipeg, 10-7 (1) — vs. Calgary Oct. 25
Edmonton, 8-8 (2) — vs. Saskatchewan Oct. 26, at Saskatchewan Nov. 2