October 21, 2019

Upon Further Review | WPG 33 CGY 37

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler, right, gets away from Calgary Stampeders' Mike Rose during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

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There are zero doubts about his toughness, his heart, or his grit. Chris Streveler had already earned that in spades through his almost two years with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Even with that, his warrior-like effort in Saturday’s 37-33 loss to the Calgary Stampeders had teammates raving afterward, even in defeat.

“I’ll say this: Strev, he showed a lot of heart,” said Bombers left tackle Stanley Bryant in a quiet visitors dressing room in McMahon Stadium Saturday night. “He’s our guy now and he stepped up and made plays with his legs, with his arms. He’s one of those guys you believe in because he’s giving his all on each and every play. The O-line has his back.”

“Strev’s a tough dude,” added receiver Kenny Lawler. “He plays with tremendous heart and tenacity. He’s a competitor at heart. When he went down it didn’t look good, but I knew he was going to do everything he could to get back into the game. That’s who he is.”

Still, the bigger question now for the Bombers in the wake of Saturday’s loss is whether Streveler will be healthy enough to take the first snap in Friday night’s rematch with the Stamps at IG Field.

Streveler, simply put, took an absolute pounding against the Stampeders defence, appearing to injure his throwing hand just before halftime and then being forced to leave the game with under eight minutes remaining – only to return and, while limping noticeably, attempt to lead the Bombers to a late rally.

His availability won’t become clearer until the club returns to practice on Tuesday. Even then, it’s not clear who would get the first call out of the bullpen between rookie Sean McGuire and newly-acquired veteran Zach Collaros.

It was McGuire who entered the game when Streveler was forced to leave for two plays in the fourth quarter, just missing Lucky Whitehead for a long attempt down the sidelines before connecting with Andrew Harris for a three-yard gain while facing a blitz.

Streveler returned after that, but was sacked on a third and 10 with 1:42 left and then was intercepted on a Hail Mary attempt on the last play of the game. Asked about returning to the game when he was struggling with an assortment of injuries, Streveler said:

“Everyone’s out there battling. I love every one of those guys in that locker room, in that huddle and I love fighting with them. It is what it is.”

As for his ankle injury, Streveler added: “I think I’ll be fine and we’ll just go from there.”

Bombers management is big on McGuire, who impressed enough in training camp to earn the No. 3 QB gig over veteran Bryan Bennett. But the trade for Collaros last week provided a veteran presence in a guy who, despite taking only two snaps this year, is 34-31 as a starter in this league. He had just three practices last week, but could get two more full sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday’s walk-through.

That’s part of why McGuire was first off the bench on Saturday.

“In practice he’s right and also, if we get into a situation where we’ve got to run hurry-up, Sean’s been doing that all year and Zach’s had a week of it,” said O’Shea. “We wanted to get him in there, get him loose and see what he could do. He was right… he delivered the ball and just missed that one to Lucky, which is unfortunate.”

More on the Bombers’ loss Saturday to the Stampeders in our weekly collection of post-game notes and quotes we call UPON FURTHER REVIEW:

THE BOMBERS HOME-FOR-THE-PLAYOFFS HOPES TOOK A SERIOUS BLOW with Saturday’s defeat, as the club fell to 10-7 behind both the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Stampeders, both of which are 11-5 and have a game in hand.

Here’s the one scenario in which the Bombers could still finish second and play host to the West Semifinal:

If Winnipeg beats Calgary this Friday and then the Riders lose their final two games to Edmonton and the Stamps fall to the B.C. Lions in their finale, all three teams would finish 11-7. The second tiebreaker would then be put into effect and that takes the highest winning percentage in head-to-head games between the tied teams. In that case Calgary would be 3-2 (.600 winning percentage) and finish first; Winnipeg would be 3-3 (.500) and finish second, with the Riders third after going 2-3 (.400) to finish third. That would mean the Riders would be here for the West Semi-Final.

That does seem like an extreme longshot, given the injuries to Lions QB Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris of the Eskimos – the teams the Riders and Stamps face down the stretch – but there you have it.

MO HAS LEFT THE BUILDING for the Bombers, who had hoped to take a winning streak into the postseason with a win Saturday, coming a week after last week’s victory over Montreal. Instead, the result continued a trend this season that has seen the Bombers give up fourth-quarter leads in four of their seven losses, also including the setbacks to Toronto and Montreal in defeats that featured the two largest blown leads in franchise history along with the loss to the Riders in the Labour Day Classic.

“There have been a couple of games where we weren’t able to finish the fourth quarter when we’ve been up and that’s just something where we’re going to have to look at ourselves and figure out the biggest issue,” said defensive back Marcus Sayles, who had a forced fumble-recovery touchdown that helped spark a second-quarter turnaround for the Bombers. “Our coaches put us in position to make plays and at the end of the day, we’ve just got to figure out how to make them. We’ve got to make those plays at the end.

“We were able to get the ball away from them. We had two turnovers, had some sacks, but at the end of the day we’ve got to do more. They had over 300 yards passing and as DBs we’ve got to limit the passing yards and we can’t give up touchdowns, especially in crucial moments.”

The Bombers are now 1-4 in games decided by four points or less and have been out-scored 105-77 in the fourth quarter this year.

“It’s tough. It’s a couple missed plays, a couple missed opportunities and, as coach said, a couple plays we want back, for sure,” said Lucky Whitehead. “We’re fighting and we had a chance at the end.

“We’re out there battling every drive. We were doing great running the ball and taking our shots when we had the chance. There are a couple plays we want back, a couple of plays I want back.

“It’ll be good to get them at home in a different atmosphere. It helps with our fans and they’ll see what we can do. We’ll get on the field this week and clean up some stuff and find a way to make that extra play.”

The Bombers have now lost four of their last five games and are just 5-7 in the 12 games since their 5-0 start to the season.

THE BOMBERS WERE ABLE TO POUND THE FOOTBALL AGAIN cranking out 191 rushing yards after rushing for 240 in the win over Montreal. That’s evidence of the change to the Bombers’ offensive game plan since the injury to Matt Nichols in mid-August: in those  eight games since, Winnipeg has finished with more rushing yards than passing four times, including the last two weeks.

The Bombers’ longest play from scrimmage Saturday night was the 34-yard Streveler-to-Lawler TD in a game in which they held a slight advantage in time of possession, at 31 minutes and 58 seconds to Calgary’s 28:02

Calgary, meanwhile, had nine different players catch passes with big-chunk plays of 55, 42, 24 and 21 yards.

“You’ve got to find the positives,” said Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson. “It was a tight, close game. It was a tough game. They did move the ball well on the ground and got a couple of big plays through the air, but it came down to the fourth quarter and finishing drives.

“That’s playoff football, with three teams fighting to get their position and get that first-round bye, to get that home playoff game and momentum. We’ve still got to find that.”

“It came down to us just needing to make more plays,” added receiver Rasheed Bailey. “Me, personally, I feel like when my number’s called I’ve got to be there to make the play. Strev made some amazing throws and I wasn’t there to capitalize on some of them. I take full responsibility for the pick. We just talked about it. I put some of that stuff on me.

“I can’t get wait to get back in, make some corrections and get back to what we do best. I did some uncharacteristic things out there. I’m upset about it, but we’ll get another shot at them next week. This was my first back to back game and I’ve got some work to do.”

THAT WAS A COMMON REFRAIN IN THE BOMBERS LOCKER ROOM after the game. Now the question is whether this team can use that as fuel this week to get things right before the playoffs.

“We’ve got a short week to prepare. We’re banged up, we know they’re banged up but we know they’re going to fight and we’re going to fight,” said Lawler.

“I can’t get wait to get back to grinding this week. That was a street fight out there with us taking shots, them taking shots. We fell a little short, but the beauty of it we will get back in the film room, get things right and make our corrections and translate those corrections into the next game. We’ll be out there making plays. You guys will see it.”