Thursday, July 18, 2024

Blue Bombers fall to 0-2, with plenty to be concerned about

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A dreadful start, two solid quarters, a blown fourth-quarter lead and a one-hour delay.

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That sums up a less-than-routine Week 2 for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Coming off their worst season-opening home loss in 25 years, the Bombers added another dreary early footnote to the 2024 season: they’re 0-2 for the first time in eight years.

Facing former teammate Dru Brown, making his first start as the No. 1 quarterback in Ottawa, the Bombers dropped a lightning-delayed, 23-19 decision that’ll raise more questions about the four-time defending West Division champs.

“The first half we could have stayed on the field a little longer,” head coach Mike O’Shea told CJOB radio, post-game. “I liked our second half. We gave ourselves a good chance. It didn’t work out. The end you could just say you ran out of clock.”

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For a time it appeared the inconsistent Bombers offence might put together the longest game-winning drive in CFL history, at least by the clock.

Down six points with some three and a half minutes to go, it took the field with the rain coming down hard and 70 yards between it and victory.

A one-handed reception by Nic Demski over the middle got things rolling, backup quarterback Chris Streveler converting the second-and-short a play later.

Rookie receiver Keric Wheatfall converted the next second-down opportunity, but that’s when the weather really took over: the teams were forced to leave the field because of the threat of lightning.

There was 2:09 to go, the Bombers on the Ottawa 42.

Nearly an hour later, the drive resumed.

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Zach Collaros completions to Dalton Schoen and Drew Wolitarsky put them on the seven, with still a minute to go.

Abandoning a run game that used to be their bread-and-butter but was mostly toast for a second straight week, Collaros missed Wheatfall in the end zone, then had a pass for Schoen knocked down.

On third down, Collaros went down under heat from the Ottawa defence, a fitting end, because for a second straight week he’d been harassed all game.

Ottawa took over, ran two plays and gave up a safety touch.

No Hail Mary was going to answer anyone’s prayers for a miracle.

O’Shea was glad his team at least got a chance. Had the delay lasted any longer, the game would have been declared a Redblacks win.

“I’m just glad we got it in,” the coach said. “That would have been not good for the CFL, for TSN, for our team… if we didn’t get it in.”

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Collaros felt the same.

“I’ve learned something,” he told CJOB. “I guess after an hour they’ll call the game. Maybe I should have known that. So we were lucky enough to be afforded the opportunity to try to go win the game. It’s not ideal, obviously. But everybody in here was focused. We’re still in the middle of the game.

“Obviously it’s a bizarre way to end it, but it’s not an excuse. We just have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone there.”

They didn’t, and now they’ll have to beat the B.C. Lions in Winnipeg next Friday to avoid an 0-3 start.

Collaros and Co. rolled up a mediocre 309 net yards, just 42 along the ground.

He completed less than half his passes – 15 of 31 – for 285 yards, but failed to record a touchdown pass for the second straight game and was intercepted twice.

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The two-time CFL most outstanding player’s touchdown-interception ratio through two games: 0-3.

“Offensively we have to play better,” Collaros said. “That’s no secret. It starts with me. I have to do a better job of completing balls and not putting us in bad situations. I’ve got to find a way to get us into a rhythm, stay on the field. Especially in situations where your defence is undermanned.”

The Bombers went into the game with just six defensive linemen and that number was cut by one on Ottawa’s first drive.

Celestin Haba went down clutching his knee and didn’t return, forcing rookie Devin Adams into a more prominent role.

When starting tackle Miles Fox got hurt, too, it left just four players in that unit.

Collaros was sacked three times and pressured a bunch more, but wasn’t pointing even a pinky of blame at his protection.

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“Ottawa’s pretty good up front,” he said. “I have to do a better job of getting the ball out of my hands, on time. There’s always an array of things that happen… our offensive line, I wouldn’t want to go to battle with anybody else. I’m very confident in that group.”

The offence at least produced two touchdowns this time, Johnny Augustine and Streveler on short runs – one more than in the home-field loss to Montreal last week.

Asked if it was a step in the right direction, O’Shea rebuffed the assumption in the question.

“I don’t think we were going in the wrong direction,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of good players that know how to play the game. It’s not the end results we want, but the process is still good.”

On the struggles of his quarterback, the coach said this: “He gave us a chance to win. That’s what you want your quarterback to do. We were right there, on the doorstep.”

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Brown passed for 238 yards and a touchdown, with not a single interception. The Redblacks also amassed 129 yards on the ground, beating Winnipeg at its own game.

As slow as the Bombers offence started, Ottawa’s marched down the field at will on its opening series, driving to the Winnipeg five before the Bombers defence stiffened and forced the chip-shot field goal.

The defence didn’t have much of a chance on a later Ottawa possession in the first.

The special teams gave up a 49-yard punt return and another 15 yards on a horse-collar tackle, setting the Redblacks up on the Winnipeg 14.

Five plays later, touchdown Ottawa and a 10-zip lead.

Meanwhile, the Bombers offence was doing nothing.

Dropped passes by Wolitarsky and Ontaria Wilson killed a couple drives, an errant Collaros throw another.

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The stats through 15 minutes were a perfect reflection of the play: Ottawa had seven first downs to Winnipeg’s one, 94 net yards to 23.

On defence the news went from bad to worse, starting halfback Deatrick Nichols going down with an injury to start the second quarter. He didn’t return, either.

When a Collaros pass got tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off by Adarius Pickett, the Redblacks were set up in Winnipeg territory again.

This time the defence shut the door and another field goal put the Bombers in a 13-0 hole that could have been worse.

After Sergio Castillo got the Bombers on the board with a 45-yard field goal, Winnipeg finally got its offence going late in the first half.

Collaros hit Demski for a 46-yard strike for their first big play of the night.

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A facemask on Collaros helped Winnipeg finish the drive, Augustine running it up the gut from four yards out to put the visitors right back in the game, down 13-10.

By now the defence, sparked by the return of middle linebacker Adam Bighill, had settled down, too, although Ottawa did manage another field-goal drive to extend their lead to six just before half-time.

Collaros hit on another big play in the third quarter, Wheatfall wide open to accept a strike that covered 76 yards, pass and run, putting the ball on the Ottawa five.

It took three plays, but Streveler scored the major, his first of the season, and the Bombers had their first lead of the game, 17-16.

Wheatfall was replacing star Kenny Lawler, out with a broken arm suffered last week against Montreal and placed on the six-game injured list.

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His play should ensure the 25-year-old a second CFL game, as he finished with 111 yards on three catches.

Just when it appeared the Bombers were about to take over the game, Collaros served up his second interception of the game, under-throwing Schoen, with Alonzo Addae taking full advantage.

Winnipeg’s defence hardened and preserved the one-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

It evaporated by midway through the fourth.

With the rain coming down, the Redblacks’ fortunes went back up, Justin Hardy taking a short Brown pass and turning it into a 42-yard gain to the Winnipeg six.

Two plays later, Hardy was wide open in the back of the end zone and Ottawa had the lead back, 22-17, after a two-point convert attempt failed.

An Ottawa single made it a six-point lead, and the Bombers took over on their own 40 with three and a half minutes to go, the game on the line.

The rest is delayed history.

X: @friesensunmedia

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