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July 15, 2016

Game Recap: EDM 20, WPG 16

Rory Kohlert (87) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Deion Belue (15) of the Edmonton Eskimos during the game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

They hated the term and took exception with what it represented. But, it turns out, the Edmonton Eskimos were an excellent ‘measuring stick’ for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after all.

And, based on the evidence served up in Thursday night’s 20-16 loss, the Bombers just aren’t good enough to go toe-to-toe with the Grey Cup champions and win a decision right now.

Instead, the Bombers have fallen to 1-3 to start the season, with the Calgary Stampeders and the Eskimos, in Edmonton, ahead on the schedule.

Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

“Same song, second verse or us, really,” said Bombers running back Andrew Harris. “A lot of penalties on first downs and too many second-and-long situations. It’s tough for any team to convert on second and 20, second and 25.

“It was tough sledding today. You’ve got to hand it to them… 90 (Almondo Sewell) was flying around, 97 (Eddie Steele) was flying around and it made it tough to throw the football.”

There were a lot of numbers that were stuck in head coach Mike O’Shea’s craw afterward, particularly the production on first down and the huge offensive production by the Eskimos – 501 yards offence, including 465 through the air – but nothing had him more frustrated than the Bombers’ penalty total.

And Bomber faithful had better sit down for this: that number was 14 for 136 yards, with all three phases guilty – five infractions for 50 yards on both offence and defence and four for 36 yards on special teams.

“Too many penalties to beat a good team. Bottom line,” said O’Shea. “Special teams, we took a bunch of penalties and we’ve been very clean on teams up until this game. And offensively we took a pile of penalties, too.

“That’s tough to take. It’s very hard to beat good teams when you’re starting deep in your own end or you’re behind the sticks. First and 20 is tough.”

Julian Posey (29) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

The Bombers held a 13-3 lead late in the first half when Mike Reilly drove the Eskimos 75 yards on 10 plays in the final two minutes and 11 seconds, connecting with Cory Watson on a two-yard TD with three ticks left to cut the margin to 13-10.

Even so, the Bombers took a 16-13 lead into the fourth quarter, but on the first play of the final 15 minutes, Reilly connected with Derel Walker on a 73-yard score that put the Esks ahead for good.

The Bombers did have one last possession, getting the ball on their own 14 with 1:27 left, but their inability to attack downfield in the face of the Eskimos rush was critical and the game ended with Drew Willy being intercepted by Neil King at around Edmonton’s 10-yard line.

The Esks’ Reilly improved his record to 6-0 lifetime against the Bombers, connecting on 32 of 45 passes for 465 yards with two TDs against one interception. Ex-Bomber Adarius Bowman put up massive numbers, finishing with 10 catches for 185 yards.

The Bombers’ Willy, meanwhile, finished 25 of 38 for 299 yards with one TD to Rory Kohlert and two second half interceptions.

“We had penalties, I turned the ball over twice, and we didn’t get points when we had opportunities in the kick zone… we had good field position a couple of times and only came up with three points,” said Willy. “It’s not good enough.

“We just have to keep working, learn from our mistakes and get better.”

Asked afterward to assess Willy’s play, O’Shea offered this and later indicated he did not contemplate a quarterback change.

“There was a stretch where he didn’t set his feet well enough, maybe, to deliver the ball,” said O’Shea. “But I’m not sure, no matter what you do with the quarterback position, if you’re always first and 20 or second and 11 or second and nine… virtually the entire game it seemed like it was that. That’s a tough spot to be in from the quarterback spot.”

O’Shea wasn’t pointing his finger solely at the penalties or the lack of production on first down. The Bombers also struggled to run the ball and were burned for two big plays – Walker’s 74-yard TD and a 60-yard connection to Bowman that led to a field goal.

And the Bomber defence, despite holding a team that had averaged 38 points in its first two games to just 20, was looking at one glaring number in particular.

“You can’t give up 450 yards passing,” said veteran cornerback Chris Randle. “I know it’s a passing league, but there’s so many opportunities out there where they had explosion plays.”

 

3-MINUTE DRILL

THE BIG STAT:

501: The net offence for the Eskimos, compared to 328 for the Bombers. That’s the highest total this season, eclipsing the 489 the Stampeders had on Canada Day.

 

NUMBERS GAME

Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the game against the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, MB. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)7-22: The Bombers’ record at home since Investors Group Field opened.

22: Rushing yards for Andrew Harris, on nine carries.

88: Receiving yards for Harris, on five catches, leading the Bombers.

33:03: Time of possession for the Eskimos, marking the third time in four games the Bombers opponent has held the ball longer.

7:11: Time of possession for the Eskimos in the first quarter.

 

QUOTABLE:

“Nothing’s successful about losing. You can’t look at it and say, ‘We’re OK with this…’ We lost. We’ll go over each phase and fix things.” – Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea.