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June 15, 2024

Upon Further Review | WPG 19 OTT 23

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nick Hallett (21) dives for Ottawa Redblacks' DeVonte Dedmon (17) as Redblacks' Bennett Williams (14) looks on during first half CFL action in Ottawa on Thursday, June 13, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

It was late Thursday-almost Friday inside the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker room at TD Place in Ottawa and there amidst the quiet commotion sat Drew Wolitarsky slumped in a chair across from Dalton Schoen and the rest of the receivers and still in his full rain-soaked gear.

It was the perfect snapshot of what frustration, what anger, what disappointment and what disbelief looks like after a 23-19 loss to the RedBlacks, a setback which has now put the Blue Bombers in an 0-2 hole to start a season for the first time since 2016.

“Let me see what I’ve got for you,” began the veteran receiver. “I’ll start by speaking for myself — I definitely have a play I would like to take back, man. We all probably would. That’s the thing — it’s a different year here and we aren’t in the position now to think that things are just going to happen for us.

“We definitely need to evaluate this film and we definitely need to start faster. We started so slow. We started slow last week. We’ve got to change something to start faster to bring that energy sooner, to bring that focus in. It’s like we’re waiting for something big to happen because in the past somebody would make that big play and we had so many guys we could rely on regularly.

“Again, it’s just different right now,” he said after a moment of further reflection. “We need to accept that and figure out a way to start faster. That’s just what I’m feeling. This is a brand new year. This is a very brand new team. We had another three guys go down tonight (to injury, in Deatrick Nichols, Celestin Haba and Miles Fox). We’ve got young guys coming in… as leaders we need to lead and as leaders we need to teach. This is a different position we find ourselves in where we’re relying on guys and some of them this is their first year or their first game. We had some guys who stepped up tonight. You saw that.

“But we’re beyond feeling sorry for ourselves. We lost because we made Mistake A, Mistake B, Mistake C and didn’t play complimentary football. These are things we know, but until we do something about it, this is the result we’re going to get.”

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

THREE NUMBERS THAT STOOD OUT… after a second glance at the statistical package, which can be found here:

1 The Blue Bombers first three possessions in the first quarter Thursday all ended with punts and the first touch of the second quarter was the first of two interceptions thrown by Zach Collaros as the club fell behind 10-zip early. In last week’s loss to the Montreal the Blue Bombers trailed 7-3 after one quarter.

But get this: in the two first quarters played this season Winnipeg’s attack has had seven possessions — six ending in punts and a seventh in a Sergio Castillo field goal. Winnipeg’s time of possession in the first quarter was four minutes and 21 seconds, compared to Ottawa’s 10:39. Over two games the first quarter TOP is 11:02 compared to 18:58 for Montreal and Ottawa combined.

Winnipeg’s first half TOP on Thursday, FYI, was just 9:51.

“We have to figure out how to be ready sooner and to execute,” said head coach Mike O’Shea after the game. “I just think we needed to, based on our team, the make-up of our team, we needed to stay on the field a little bit in the first half. The way they responded in the second half I thought was pretty good but you just run out of clock.”

2 Winnipeg has now played two games, eight quarters, and here’s a total no one who watched camp or the last four seasons saw coming: Collaros has zero touchdown passes against three interceptions with the three touchdowns scored this year all coming on the ground — two by Johnny Augustine and a third by Chris Streveler. Through two starts Collaros has completed 54.7 percent of his passes (35-of-64) for 494 yards.

Consider this, too, with a hat tip to TSN for the nugget: over the last three years Collaros leads all CFL QBs with 90 touchdown passes. Next on that list? B.C.’s Vernon Adams, Jr. with 54.

“It’s disappointing to have this conversation with you again this week,” Collaros told reporters afterward. “You certainly don’t want to panic, but you want to be critical and you want to have a sense of urgency — we’ve talked about that since training camp.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to start faster, finish drives offensively, stay on the field — our defence did an unbelievable job; they were down to four defensive linemen, those guys played every snap. Deatrick went down there and we were thin on the back as well. We’ve got to do a better job of supporting our defence, helping our defence.

“Any time you give up only 23 (points), we should be able to win that game.”

3 Further to the above, Collaros was sacked three times on Thursday and has been dropped five times in two games. The attack featured one new starter in the receiving corps a week ago in Ontaria Wilson and two vs. the RedBlacks in Wilson and Keric Wheatfall.

And so an offence already featuring two changes along the O-line in right tackle Eric Lofton and left guard Liam Dobson and with left guard Pat Neufeld missing a majority of training camp also clearly felt the absences of Brady Oliveira and Kenny Lawler in Ottawa.

That’s not an excuse — no one in Bomberland even mentioned that post-game — but a simple reality.

IF THERE IS A SILVER LINING… and, yes, that’s a bit of a reach given the first two weeks, the Blue Bombers may have found something in Wheatfall, who was the club’s leading receiver with three catches for 110 yards — including a 76-yard hook-up from Collaros that led to the Streveler touchdown.

“Going into my first game I was definitely excited to get this opportunity and my first league start. But like my man (Wolitarsky) said, we started off slow in the first half,” said Wheatfall. “We’ve got to find a way to get that spark early in the game. Once we get that rolling, we’re going to be OK.

“I had some nerves, but mostly it was excitement. This was my first game starting in a big league, in pro ball, and I was really excited to go out there and perform and do what I can for the team and put on a show for all my family watching back home in Houston, Texas.

THERE WILL BE SECOND GUESSING… on what happened with the Blue Bombers in position to win the game late and the ball on Ottawa’s seven-yard line with 1:02 remaining. On first and goal Collaros attempted to hit Wheatfall with a throw to the back of the end zone that was incomplete. On second down Dalton Schoen was open but a sensational diving knock down by Ottawa defensive back Damon Webb prevented a score. And on third down Collaros was sacked by Lorenzo Mauldin IV.

“Too many missed opportunities,” said Willie Jefferson, summarizing the whole night. “And we had the opportunity to put the ball in the end zone and just couldn’t do it. Same as last week — we’re moving the ball and couldn’t get it in the end zone. And for the defence, in the first half we had some early penalties, we had some guys go down and were trying to get off the field on second down.

“That momentum we had going into those two minutes… ball was moving, Zach had a rhythm, the guys were moving and then we had the delay and stayed in here for 35-40 minutes. When we came out we still had intensity and made some great plays. Then, the ball on the seven… we just couldn’t put it in. That’s tough. They made some great plays to get the ball to the seven and we had some great looks to get the ball in the end zone but Ottawa just had good defence.”

UPDATE ON THE INJURY FRONT…  after Nichols, Haba and Fox all did not finish the game due to injury. Haba and Fox were both placed on the six-game injured list Saturday morning while Ali Fayad, who was injured in camp, is healthy again and was added to the practice roster. Haba and Fox join two other D-linemen on the six-game injured list in Cam Lawson and TyJuan Garbutt.

No update yet on the status of Nichols, with Marquise Bridges replacing him in-game on Thursday. Of note, also re-added was running back/kick returner Chris Smith, who had a 109-yard punt return TD in the final preseason game but was also injured.

The injuries to Haba and Fox left the club with just four defensive linemen against Ottawa — Jefferson, Jake Thomas, Tanner Schmekel and Devin Adams. Jefferson and Adams had the club’s two sacks.

“It was a challenge but that’s something we stepped up and took full responsibility for — me, Jake, Schmek, and D.A. did what we had to do,” Jefferson said. “We finished the game tough and still gave their offensive line, their front seven (including extra blockers) pressure and still Dru (Brown) moving and getting him off his spot.

“We were just trying to play Winnipeg defence. Get off the field on second down, get the ball back to Zach so he could make something happen.”