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June 7, 2024

Upon Further Review | Mtl 27 Wpg 12

Willie Jefferson in pursuit of Montreal QB Cody Fajardo in Thursday's loss -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

It’s not wise in the sportswriting/reporting world to make assumptions or put words in anyone’s mouth.

That said, if we were to summarize the collective reaction from Winnipeg Blue Bombers veterans following Thursday night’s 27-12 loss to the Montreal Alouettes in the 2024 Canadian Football League season opener, it would go something like this:

What… the… hell… was… that?!?!

Some of that frustration was captured in our game recap and there were similar sentiments from other voices late Thursday after the first home opener dropped in these parts since a 33-30 loss to Edmonton in 2018.

“We’ve got to live with the consequences after what happened out there,” said defensive back Deatrick Nichols. “We took the ‘L’. Now we regroup, sleep on it tonight and then tomorrow get on to the next.

“Now we go back to it, don’t take anything for granted and just put that much more effort into everything we’ve got going on here. Everything is special here. This is a great team, and we don’t point fingers at anyone. So, we take the loss as a team and rebuild.

“It was an embarrassing loss. And to see some fans leaving early… we didn’t give them what they wanted. So that’s why it’s back to square one.”

The Blue Bombers had entered the opener 37-3 in their last 40 home games and had won seven straight at home by double-digit margins – a first since 1984. That all went awry quickly against the Als.

“We got beat. We got out-executed,” said guard Pat Neufeld. “Offensively we didn’t play up to the standard we set for ourselves and when you go out and make mistakes and don’t play physical enough, that’s what happens at home – you lose like that.

“We’re going to have to be very honest with ourselves and address the reasons why we lost this game and move forward. It’s a long season. Everyone in this building has lost a game. Obviously, you don’t want to lose at home, and you don’t want to lose a home opener, but it happens.

“We don’t want to have this feeling again, so that’s why you work your butt off, so you don’t have it again.”

The reaction, clearly, is what matters most now. That ugly opener fading in the rear-view mirror, it’s critical the Blue Bombers find their game again this week in Ottawa against the RedBlacks.

“Obviously, I’m not happy – I’m more pissed at myself for probably see this coming and not doing enough about it,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “But I understand the commitment level that these guys have had for so long. You never doubt them. You move on quickly, as we always have regardless of what our record is, win or lose. You move on quickly and I don’t there’s a reason to change that.

“These guys, they’ll know. They’ll be hurting.”

As for the silver-lining/wake-up call/better it happens now than in November narrative…

“Our guys have seen so much, I don’t know that they need a wake-up call,” O’Shea added. “They get it. Once again, I think I could have been better for them towards the end of camp. I’ve never been one to think of wake-up calls or better (it happens) now than later. I don’t think that way.”

More on Thursday’s loss in this week’s UPON FURTHER REVIEW

THREE NUMBERS FROM THURSDAY… that stood out after a second glance at the statistical package, which can be found here:

1 The offensive numbers for a unit which has been so prolific over the last few years are icky. Winnipeg had 15 offensive possessions in the game – 14 if you toss out a drive that started at the end of the first half with just six seconds remaining.

Of those 14 possessions there were eight punts, an interception in the end zone, a fumble in Montreal territory, two missed field goals, one made field goal and a touchdown by Johnny Augustine with 68 seconds remaining in the game.

The 12 points scored were the lowest since a 30-6 home loss to the B.C. Lions last June.

2 Zach Collaros finished 20 of 30, but for just 209 yards and the one interception. Worth noting, 64 of those passing yards came on the team’s last drive which began with just 2:28 left and the Als up 27-6.

3 Brady Oliveira rushed 11 times for 38 yards and pulled in three passes for 17 yards. There were some flashes, but he also looked like a guy who hadn’t practiced all training camp until earlier this week.

“I don’t know if the holes were there or not and as much work as Brady did (in the offseason), you miss a whole camp your feet don’t move as quickly,” said O’Shea. “You could see the stumble, the trip-up in the backfield and then another stumble where he loses his footing – that is just a great indicator that you missed camp. You don’t have that same foot quickness. I think that’s what he was missing and if he had that, does it look better on the run game, I’m sure it does.

ICYMI: Sergio Castillo finished 1-for-3 on his field goal attempts and missed a convert. This was brought up in our game recap, but kickers across the league are steamed about a microchip inserted into the football this year by Genius Sports to provide advanced statistics. But the kickers insist it’s causing issues with end-over-end kicks, although not particularly on spirals.

“Every single (CFL placekicker) is opposed to this. We’re all against it,” said Castillo, who set a Blue Bombers record last year with a 90.2 percentage on field goal attempts. “Yeah, there was testing done, etcetera, blah, blah, blah, but it wasn’t done by professionals. It wasn’t done by guys who play for you, your employees of the Canadian Football League.”

From Saskatchewan kicker Brett Lauther, a vice-president of the CFL Players’ Association:

“I certainly understand that they’re engaging in a lot of conversation about it,” said O’Shea. “(Castillo’s) a 90 percent kicker. He kicks extremely well. You listen to golfers… they’ll hit a clean shot, and the ball won’t do what they thought it was going to do because it hit something or something happens. And they’ll go, ‘No, I hit it clean.’ You’ve got to trust that when they say that. You believe them because they’ve not just done 10,000, they’ve done 20,000 shots. Well, Sergio’s kicked 20,000 footballs and if he says he hits it clean, he hits it clean and if it doesn’t do what he thinks it should do then there’s something there.

“Either way, we’ve got to be better. Not just special teams, not kicking, not whatever. We’ve got to be better.”

**UPDATE ON THIS STORY: The league issued a statement Friday afternoon indicating ‘Effective immediately, teams will no longer be mandated to use microchip-implanted footballs for kicking plays’ adding, “The league has tested these footballs using robotic technology and current CFL players. While there is no definitive evidence to suggest their use impacts performance in any manner, we are taking this step out of respect for kickers who do not yet feel comfortable using them.”

Statement on the use of microchip-implanted footballs on kicking plays

NO OFFICIAL UPDATE EXPECTED ON KENNY LAWLER… until the team returns to the practice field in advance of next Thursday’s game. The Blue Bombers dynamic receiver had three catches for 26 yards through the first 20 minutes but was spotted grabbing his wrist after the third catch near the home team bench and, after being evaluated, was taken to the locker room before halftime and did not return. Media reports today have suggested he suffered a fracture and will be moved to the six-game injured list, but that likely won’t be confirmed until next week.

“Kenny is one of the best players in the league. It’s tough,” said Collaros. “I thought the young guys did a good job of stepping in and filling that role. You’re never really going to fill that void that is Kenny Lawler. I’m just really disappointed for him coming out of the game. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around, so that’s what makes it really tough.

Rookie Kevens Clercius, the club’s first pick in the 2024 CFL Draft, stepped in for Lawler and finished with two catches for 16 yards.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED… Chris Streveler being rather heated after a play in the third quarter when he was tackled by Alouette defender Reggie Stubblefield after a 12-yard run and had his ankle twisted while on the ground.

“He twisted my ankle after he tackled me and that’s why I had something to say afterwards,” said Streveler. “There’s no place in football for that stuff trying to win and play hard within the whistle. Stuff like that, there’s no place in the game for it and so I needed to say something.

“I don’t know if it was intent to injure – we’re all playing hard — but I thought it was after the whistle and I thought it was completely unnecessary.”

There was no penalty on the play – the officials told Streveler and O’Shea they didn’t see the play – and on the very next snap Stubblefield was injured and had to be carted off the field.

FYI: Myron Mitchell had seven punt returns for 53 yards in his CFL debut – along with a costly fumble at the Winnipeg 14-yard line that resulted in a Cody Fajardo-to-Tyson Philpot TD – and returned four kickoffs for 71 yards.

O’Shea on Mitchell’s performance:

“I like his grit. That’s what we liked in training camp – he showed a lot of grit. I thought he attacked pretty well. There’s some stuff you need to learn as a young returner that you can do differently that he can do differently. The idea of him having a ball stripped from him… I don’t know that it will happen again – it’s pro football. You’re not just going to the ground. Until you are on the ground, Montreal especially, teams and pro football players will rip that football out and he just loses sight of that for a split second.

“I do like the way he hit things. I thought he probably maximized his yardage. I’ll have to see it on film. He works hard. He’ll take it seriously, for sure. He’s wired right.”

QUOTABLE: “They were a better football team than us today. Hat’s off to them. Now we go back to work. We go back to the chalkboard. Nothing beats working hard. We’ll get out there and fix it.

“We’ll not use excuses about being rusty or our first game because it was their first game, too.” – Blue Bombers defensive back Redha Kramdi.