Vanstone: Banjo Bowl blunders extinguish Riders' winning streak
While a Canadian was stealing the show at Flushing Meadows, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were flushing away a chance to ascend into first place.
It was game, set and mismatch before halftime as the Roughriders succumbed 35-10 to the host Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday.
Pin the loss — Saskatchewan’s first in two months — on an assortment of failures.
Barely a sprinkle of offence.
And a failure to live up to the bravado.
The Roughriders entered Saturday’s game with an opportunity to leapfrog the Blue Bombers and move into top spot in the CFL’s West Division.
And it looked oh, so promising … for two plays.
Winnipeg was penalized for an illegal block while returning the opening kickoff for modest yardage. As a consequence, the Blue Bombers scrimmaged the ball on their 10-yard line. Auspicious start!
Chris Streveler was then sacked by middle linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who placed Winnipeg in a second-and-17 predicament.
OK, maybe not.
Streveler ran for the required 17 yards on second down, even though the Bombers’ call in that situation — a quarterback draw — should have been obvious to everyone in the stadium, especially Roughriders defensive co-ordinator Jason Shivers and his 12 moving pieces.
Winnipeg proceeded to devour more than half of the first quarter on a touchdown drive that was aided by missed tackles and the Roughriders’ propensity for penalties.
And on it went.
Just wondering: Did anyone pack the Big Play Chain for the trip to Winnipeg?
Well before halftime, it was obvious that Saskatchewan’s winning streak would be snapped at six games.
The visiting side was completely outclassed, even though Winnipeg was without its two best offensive players — quarterback Matt Nichols (injured) and running back Andrew Harris (suspended).
On the other side of the football, Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson continued to dominate, prompting more questions about how the Roughriders could have possibly allowed him to flee via free agency while spending $250,000 on defensive tackle Micah Johnson, who missed a tackle on each of Winnipeg’s first two touchdown drives.
At least he is fitting right in.
And then there was Roughriders defensive end Charleston Hughes, who on Saturday morning fired a volley at TSN for a perceived slight.
“Let’s all wait and see what a #2 rank Dlineman does today,” Hughes tweeted before being outplayed by Jefferson, who registered two sacks and a forced fumble.
Hughes countered his league-leading 13th sack, which came while Winnipeg was ahead 35-4.
“I never thought I would see the day where I turn off a Rider game to watch tennis,” valued reader Rod Fink e-mailed in the third quarter, not long before Canada’s Bianca Andreescu defeated Serena Williams to win the women’s title at the U.S. Open.
While Canadian sporting history was being made, the Roughriders were performing as though they could not determine whether the Banjo Bowl was a five- or 10-pin event.
Consider the Roughriders’ (ahem) strategy in a second-and-one situation in Saturday’s obligatory third quarter, at which point Winnipeg was clinging to a 35-3 lead.
It’s basic football. Call for a quarterback sneak. Move the chains.
Why even risk a loss in that situation?
So, naturally, the ball was handed to William Powell, who was swarmed for a loss of three. (Powell finished with four carries for one yard.)
Jon Ryan then punted for a 63-yard single which, given the events of the day, qualified for the Roughriders’ highlight reel.
In addition to botching a second-and-one situation, the Roughriders failed on second-and-two and a pair of second-and-fours. At least they were consistent.
An offence co-ordinated by Stephen McAdoo, who has enjoyed such a sterling season overall, was largely anemic on Saturday.
Mind you, none of the sludge that the Roughriders served up during Saturday’s stinker was quite as embarrassing as Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea’s decision to throw a challenge flag with fewer than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Winnipeg was leading by 25 points at the time.
Honestly, what was that?
Roughriders fans had every reason to pose that question from the moment Streveler ran for 17 yards on second-and-kilometres.
Although Streveler is reputedly an erratic passer, the Roughriders turned him into a 15-for-21 paragon of precision.
On a positive note, the Roughriders escaped the Banjo Bowl without a season-ending injury to an impactful player — a contrast to the Banjo Bowls of 2007 (Matt Dominguez), 2013 (Rey Williams) and 2014 (Darian Durant).
Remember, too, that Saskatchewan overcame Banjo Bowl losses of 34-15 (2007) and 25-13 (2013) en route to winning Grey Cup championships.
With a 7-4 record, the Roughriders are still well-positioned to make some noise down the stretch.
So all is not lost — small solace, to be certain, for anyone who pluckily endured the Roughriders’ string of failures on Saturday.