Bombers battle hard but can't find way to upend Stampeders in Calgary shootout
CALGARY — Chris Streveler was so battered and bruised after a gutsy effort at quarterback Saturday night that he could barely walk from his media interview session back to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers dressing room.
His obvious physical pain painted the perfect picture to sum up the Bombers crushing 37-33 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in a game that had playoff implications and a playoff feel.
The Bombers battled like warriors — with Streveler leading the way — but in the end they could not do enough on offence, nor defence, to find a way to beat star quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders.
“We always expect to battle, we always expect to fight,” a visibly dejected Streveler said moments after the game.
“I believe in every single one of those guys in that locker room and we’ve got a lot of love for each other.
“We don’t take pride in close losses. We want to win and we’re gonna battle every game. There’s no moral victories or anything like that. The loss is tough to swallow. Couple missed opportunities offensively and we didn’t do enough there. Pretty disappointed.”
Streveler did a pretty good job running the Bombers offence, churning out 85 rushing yards and throwing for 134 more, including a touchdown pass to receiver Kenny Lawler. He also threw two more interceptions, bringing his total to 14 on the season.
He took hit after hit and was slow getting up on at least three occasions. He looked to have suffered a hand injury in the first half, was hunched over and favouring his left side in the second half and clearly suffered an ankle injury late in the game, for which he finally came out and was replaced by rookie Sean McGuire.
With the Bombers trailing by four in the final three minutes, they got two last chances to drive for the winning points, but simply did not have the passing game to pull it off. Streveler came back in, basically operating on one leg, completed only two of six pass attempts on those two drives and was intercepted at the end of the game.
“He’s as tough as they come,” O’Shea said.
“You trust your players. He says he can go, he can go. You see how quickly he was back out there, right?
“Obviously Strev got a little nicked up in that game and I think when guys do what he did, they’re putting it on the line for their teammates. They want to be out there for them. They love working for their teammates and they want to give them everything they’ve got.”
On this night, it was the Bombers defence that suffered a significant letdown.
The Bombers led 27-19 at the half but blew another second-half lead, in the end allowing Mitchell to throw for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
Though they got a defensive touchdown from Marcus Sayles — who forced an Ante Milanovic-Litre fumble, scooped it an scored — and a league-leading ninth interception of the season from Winston Rose, which set up a 25-yard Lucky Whitehead touchdown run, the defence did not do enough to stop the league’s best passing attack.
They also took two very costly penalties, which extended Calgary drives. First dime back Marcus Rios was flagged for illegal contact, negating a quarterback sack, and then Jackson Jeffcoat was nailed for roughing the passer — hit to the head — on a crucial sack of Mitchell in the fourth quarter.
“There’s definitely some plays they’d like to have back,” O’Shea said. “Too many explosions. We had some penalties that kept them on the field. We’ll see if they’re all penalties in the coming days. We did take the ball away a couple times and got a score so that’s a great job by the defence in that regard, but in the end they’re gonna watch the film and they’re gonna want some fourth-quarter plays back or some explosions back.”
Justin Medlock kicked four field goals for the Bombers, the longest from 41 yards out.
The Stampeders got three touchdowns from leading receiver Reggie Begelton and added three two-point converts in what was mostly an even game. Milanovic-Litre had the other Calgary touchdown and Rene Paredes made two of three field-goal attempts.
What all this means is that the Bombers will almost surely begin the playoffs on the road after falling to 10-7. They still have a chance to beat the (11-5) Stamps next Friday at home and win the season series, but Calgary finishes the season with a game against 5-12 B.C., on Nov. 2 and can claim a home playoff game on that night even if they lose next week.
Calgary can still finish in first place and host the West final if it wins its final two games. If they do that, the Bombers would go to Saskatchewan (11-5) for the West semifinal.
“We’ve got to do better,” Sayles said. “We were able to make some turnovers, which helped our offence get in position, but it wasn’t enough. Our coaches put us in position to make plays and we’ve got to figure out how to make them.”
When all was said and done, the Bombers had 191 rushing yards and 324 total yards, which wasn’t that much less than Calgary’s 361.
However, the lack of a legitimate passing attack haunted them as they simply couldn’t execute at the end of the game when they needed to throw the ball and complete long passes in order to have a chance.
“We had an opportunity at the end to really strike them and we didn’t execute,” O’Shea said.
The defence simply didn’t execute either, at the most crucial moments. Defensive back Chandler Fenner had a chance for an interception, but dropped it, and the Stamps wound up driving 75 yards for the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
On numerous occasions, Stamps receivers were wide open and it could have been worse had the Calgary players not dropped four passes.
“It was a hard-fought game, a battle from start to finish in a playoff atmosphere,” Rose said. “We started fast but we’ve got to finish strong. It’s been a bit of a theme this year.
“We have to really dive into the film and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again and again.”
If there’s a positive here, it’s that the Bombers played well enough to have a chance to win, on the road, in a playoff atmosphere. It certainly lends hope that they can do it in November.
“It was a shootout, with great efforts in every phase from every team,” Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said.