WINNIPEG — The Blue Bombers are indeed, first. And the B.C. Lions are, indeed, the West’s worst.
It didn’t look like that narrative would play out through the first 32 minutes on Thursday, as the Lions held a 13-12 lead and toyed with the nerves of 24,914 fans at Investors Group Field.
A bomber is a combat aircraft designed to attack ground and naval targets by dropping air-to-ground weaponry (such as bombs), firing torpedoes and bullets, or deploying air-launched cruise missiles.
Blue Bombers 32, Lions 16: Royal rumble turns sour with stumbles, bumbles in Swaggerville
Rumble or Rumbling may refer to:
But 17 unanswered points from some smothering Bombers’ defence led to a 32-16 Winnipeg win, handing B.C. its fifth straight loss and almost surely extinguishing any hopes of securing a CFL playoff berth this fall.
The loss, coming on the heels of a painful 35-34 loss to Tiger-Cats last Saturday — a game in which the Lions had a 15-point fourth-quarter lead — drops B.C.’s record to 1-8 on the season.
Blue Bombers 32, Lions 16: Royal rumble turns sour with stumbles, bumbles in Swaggerville
“It’s almost starting to sound like a broken record; it comes down to five plays every game,” said B.C. coach DeVone Claybrooks. “It’s those hidden points and hidden yardage that are really causing us some adversity that we’ve got to fight through. When we’re in those situations, it almost seems like we can’t get out of our own way.
“We have to learn how to win. We have to learn how to continue to make plays. When you get punched, you gotta throw two back. That’s what we have do to instead of keep getting punched and taking it.
“We know where we’re at. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. It’s the CFL — nobody is going to feel sorry for you; they’re going to come in, and try and run it up on you.”
The Lions have tied their worst start mark in the club’s modern era, with their last 1-8 start coming in 1996, when they went on to finish 5-13.
Two sacks, an interception and a blocked punt for a touchdown in a short third-quarter span will be the epitaph of Thursday’s tilt in the Manitoba capital, putting the Leos in a 16-point deficit that stretched to 19 just seconds into the final quarter.
The Lions came into the season with aspirations of being a shock-and-awe type team, with the league’s top quarterback in both stats and wages, a pricey offensive line to protect him and a talented group of receivers to throw to.
But it’s devolved into shock that a roster so talented on paper has just one win on the season — by a rouge, no less — and “awww, man, can’t they do anything right?”
They stumbled out of Swaggerville on Thursday knowing questions are going to be asked of a coaching staff that has failed to maximize the potential of a talent-heavy roster in every phase of the game, from special teams to offence.
So, here’s what we learned as the Blue Bombers improved to 7-2:
BY THE NUMBERS
B.C. quarterback Mike Reilly had 177 yards and an interception on 16-of-28 passing, with slotback Lemar Durant leading the way with 108 yards on five catches. The Lions had 67 rushing yards, topped by Jon White’s 11 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown, and actually had 32:06 of possession to Winnipeg’s 27:15.
“We just have to figure out what it is internally that’s holding us back from coming out and playing our best football. We have spurts here and there, but then it’s like we shut down mentally and can’t get it figured out,” said Reilly. “I can’t tell you the answer to that, because it’s a different answer for every person on the team, everyone’s a different person, but collectively we have to figure it out.
“That’s the challenge when you’re not winning. Winning and losing are contagious. Confidence is built in a good way or bad way based on your experiences. We’ve won one game in nine tries, so when things start to go bad, the only experiences we have to draw on as a team are things continuing to go (bad). We have to get over that. We have to flush the bad things that are happening and go on to the next play.”
B.C. receiver Bryan Burnham was only targeted five times, catching four passes for 46 yards, and kicker Sergio Castillo went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts of 47, 50 and 35 yards for B.C.
Matt Nichols was 10-of-12 for 179 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Bombers, who had 302 yards of offence against a defence that has given up the most points in the CFL (34.5) and most touchdowns (33).
Nichols had 124 yards passing in the first quarter as they repeatedly attacked the Lions’ secondary deep. B.C. came into the game giving up more 20-yard-plus passes than any other team. He left early in the fourth quarter with an apparent arm injury.
Winnipeg is now 5-0 at home and undefeated in four games against Western opponents.
While the Lions were marching their way toward a dubious historical mark, their former running back was busy establishing one.
Coming into the night, Andrew Harris, the CFL’s leading rusher, needed just 65 total yards from scrimmage to set the all-time mark for Canadians. He had 73 yards rushing on 14 carries to bump his career total to 13,377 yards passing Montreal Alouettes’ legend Ben Cahoon (13,368).
He’s now closing in on — in a bit of irony — Charles Roberts (13,681) for 10th all-time overall. Like Harris, Roberts only played for two CFL teams: B.C. and Winnipeg.
Harris, who’d accounted for 54 per cent of the Bombers’ offence the previous two weeks, also cracked the top-10 all-time rushing mark, passing Toronto Argonauts Hall of Famer Dave Thelen (8,463).
“Honestly, I was trying to downplay it but I got super emotional when I saw the little video and everyone started congratulating me,” Harris told Postmedia’s Ted Wyman. “I’m still at a loss for words just based on all the people that helped me out and the opportunity that I got playing in B.C.
“I could never have imagined myself being at this point in my career and this point in my life to being doing things like this. Just a lot of respect and thanks to a lot of different people. It’s the cumulation of a lot of hard work and opportunity.”
The starkest statistical issue for the Lions has come at the line of scrimmage, on both sides of the ball. Coming into the game, they’d given up the most sacks (29) and had the fewest sacks for (7).
A rejigged offensive line had a better showing last week in Hamilton, even if Reilly was sacked four times, but the Leos were blanked again on defence.
The Lions traded for Shawn Lemon this week, reunited the 9/11 line of Lemon (No. 9) and Odell Willis (No. 11), which saw them rack up 10 and 11 sacks, respectively, in 2018. Lemon had his first two sacks of the season and a forced fumble, as the Lions managed three sacks on the night.
It was pressure from Willis that forced Nichols to step up into a David Menard tackle and uncork an errant throw that Maleki Harris intercepted in the B.C. red zone on the final play of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Isaiah Guzylak-Messam got in alternate QB Chris Streveler’s face and tipped a pass that defensive tackle Junior Luke nabbed for his first career interception. Luke also had a second-quarter sack.
On offence, Reilly was sacked seven times — two of them caused by coverage — but did have enough protection to make second and third reads early in the game, time he wasn’t getting earlier in the season. But when the Bombers turned up the heat in the third quarter, it was much of what had been seen in the earlier games — missed assignments, miscommunications or just being out-schemed.
The production from wide receiver Duron Carter has been a storyline all year, especially after coming into Thursday’s game with just three catches for 19 yards on six targets the past two games. He eclipsed that total in the first quarter, making a diving grab off the turf on a broken play for a 20-yard reception.
He finished the game with three catches for 39 yards, although he did hit Durant with a 51-yard gadget-play pass two minutes into the third quarter that set up B.C.’s lone touchdown of the day, a four-yard run by White.
Carter was as downcast as the rest of the B.C. locker-room post-game, his usual trademark smile devoid of any joy.
“It’s heavy. Nobody likes losing,” he said. “We have to get it together. There’s no if, ands or buts about it. No excuses. Everyone watches the game, everyone sees what’s happening, everybody knows what’s going on. At this point, there’s nothing to say.
Other teams have been able to capitalize on momentum changes, capitalize on special teams … and that’s the key word. Capitalizing. The ebbs and flows that come with the game, we just end up on the low end right now.
“It’s the same thing that happens every game. We lose control. We have to figure out ways to stay in the game through the ups and downs, and figure out ways to win. Conventional ways obviously aren’t working right now.
“Eventually someone has to hear it,” he said of the messages coming from the coaching staff.
“You can’t keep losing all the time and keep the same team. That’s where we’re at right now.”
The Lions were wary of Bombers’ kick returner Janarion Grant, whose debut last week was the best in team history, becoming the first to record two return scores in a single game. He had 222 yards on seven punt returns last year, including touchdowns of 76 and 83.
After being burned by a long fourth-quarter return in Hamilton, the Lions kept all their kickoffs short and punts angled to the sideline. But Grant broke through with a big 56-yard return in the third quarter that set up a 37-yard Justin Medlock field goal.
He finished the game with 77 yards on three returns.
Saturday, Aug. 24
Hamilton Tiger-Cats vs. B.C. Lions
7 p.m., B.C. Place Stadium, TV: TSN; Radio: TSN 1040 AM
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email [email protected]