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October 1, 2016

Upon Further Review: EDM 40, WPG 26

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They didn’t pound their fists down on the panic button after a 1-4 start and, given what’s transpired in between, certainly aren’t going to freak out now after back-to-back losses.

But the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are also very well aware of this: they were far from good enough in Friday’s 40-26 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos that further tightened up the Canadian Football League’s West Division playoff race, and they have a lot of heavy lifting to do to get things right again.

“We just didn’t play good enough,” said veteran defensive tackle Keith Shologan. “Discipline-wise we had way too many penalties and, overall, we didn’t play good football. Now we need to get into the drawing room and see what we can do to fix it. I thought the emotion was there, we just didn’t do what we needed to when we needed to do it.”

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“We’re a good football team. Good character, good work ethic. We can play with anybody. This team has so much parity, the good teams separate themselves by playing consistent, savvy football every week. We’ve got the talent in this room, we’ve just got to be more consistent. Once we figure that out we’ll be very good.”

They won’t have to look too far to unearth some of the glaring problems from Friday’s loss and last Saturday’s setback in Calgary.

The penalty totals – 15 for a whopping 166 yards – were a season high and the focus of much of the post-game chatter in the Bomber locker room.

But the yardage yielded by the defence over the past couple of weeks, particularly through the air, has also been frightening. Edmonton’s ace QB Mike Reilly completed 32 of 38 passes for 355 yards and two scores Friday night and last week in Calgary Stamps’ pivot Bo Levi Mitchell hit on 29 of 43 for 361 yards and two scores.

Just to hammer this home: Reilly and Mitchell combined to complete 75.3 per cent of their passes for four TDs and zero interceptions while the Eskimo and Stampeder offences also managed to rush for over 100 yards in each game.

“Up front we didn’t play well enough and, as a defence, we missed a lot of tackles,” said the always candid Euclid Cummings, a mainstay at defensive tackle. “Give kudos to them. They ran the ball, they did some good things and took advantage of some of our penalties.”

“That finish… we had them against the wall but didn’t finish again. But let’s be clear: under no circumstances are we discouraged or anything. We’ve got four games left, four big ones.”

Euclid Cummings

Bingo.

The Bombers, now 8-6, will head into a critical home-and-home series with the B.C. Lions beginning Saturday at Investors Group Field and then finish up the regular season with another double-header, this time against the Ottawa REDBLACKS. In between is a bye week that could be massive in healing up for a playoff push.

Speaking of which, there was a ton of chatter in the hours leading up to kickoff Friday night about a Bomber win, coupled with a loss by the Toronto Argonauts on Sunday, giving this crew its first playoff berth since 2011.

That didn’t come up in the pre-game speeches, we’re told, and any mention of it post-game was an invitation to get slapped upside the head. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

“I don’t think anybody brought that up, which is a good thing because we need to focus on each week,” said Shologan. “If you don’t approach it that way, well, that’s a loser mentality in my opinion.”

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More on the loss to Edmonton with our weekly post-game collection of notes, quotes and anecdotes we call ‘Upon Further Review’:

IT’S NOT ALWAYS THAT COMPLICATED… but consider this in examining the Bombers and their 8-6 record: in their six losses this season, they have surrendered an average of 453.3 yards per game. And in their eight wins, that defensive number is an even 372.

What was concerning against the Esks is that every time the Bombers threatened, Edmonton’s potent offence answered. Excluding their last possession when they were killing the clock, the Esks had seven drives of five plays or more, including a 12-play, 79-yard drive that led to their first score, a nine-play, 45-yard drive that led to a field goal and the killer – a five-play 76-yard drive, including Derel Walker’s 61-yard TD that sealed the deal inside the final two minutes.

In what was a tight contest before the late score, the Esks ran 13 more offensive plays than Winnipeg and held an 11-minute advantage in the time of possession.

“We had a game plan and those guys came out and executed at a high level,” said Bombers cornerback Chris Randle of the Eskimos. “They have some playmakers and their playmakers made plays.”

THE BOMBERS HAD BEEN AVERAGING… nine penalties per game heading into Friday’s contest, so the 15 for 166 was a shocking total.

“Coach O’Shea just talked to us in there and I don’t know the exact numbers but it was something like 12-15 penalties for over 150 yards,” said Nichols. “You do that against a good football team and you’re basically giving them a touchdown and a half and you can’t do that. We know that as a team. We can’t make those mistakes. That’s part of them out-playing us… they didn’t do that and those are things that we can avoid.”

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NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT… the absences of Quincy McDuffie and Darvin Adams in particular are popping off the page right now for the Bomber offence. Paul LaPolice & Co. have done a solid job of moving pieces around in the receiving corps and while Clarence Denmark and Weston Dressler both found the end zone, the attack could use those vertical threats to at least stretch a defence.

Weston Dressler led the Bombers in receiving yardage with 79 yards on four catches, including a 41-yard TD that was the 52nd score of his career. He is now just 97 yards behind Eddie Brown for 29th spot on the CFL’s all-time list.

AND FINALLY, HE HAS LAUGHED IT OFF GRACIOUSLY… for much of the season, but Kevin Fogg must be *this* close to losing it after having his fourth punt return touchdown of the season called back by penalty against the Esks.

Fogg, a rookie-of-the-year candidate, would have the engraver already etching his name onto the trophy if even half of those scores had counted. Friday it was Jesse Briggs’ illegal-block penalty that wiped out a 40-yard score that would have put the Bombers ahead 14-10. Instead, they settled for a Justin Medlock field goal.

Here’s a number that is going to have Mike O’Shea, Kyle Walters and Wade Miller – all special-teams demons back in their playing days – positively fuming: six of the Bombers 15 penalties, totaling 68 yards came on the kick coverage and kick-return units.

By comparison, Edmonton had one special-teams penalty, an illegal block, for 10 yards.