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September 26, 2016

Upon Further Review: WPG 34, CGY 36

Clarence Denmark (89) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

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Clarence Denmark knew what he had just witnessed. And he had a gut feeling of what he was going to see in the days ahead.

“We weren’t good enough today,” began the veteran receiver in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker room at McMahon Stadium after Saturday’s crushing 36-34 loss to the Calgary Stampeders. “That’s basically what it came down to. And when we watch the film I think we’re going to be mad at ourselves.”

“It’s us. I’ve said from the beginning if we just focus on us when we come in here and do the things we do… it was nothing they did to control that game. It was all us.”

Clarence Denmark

And when he was asked if Saturday’s loss – which saw the Bombers fall behind 24-0 and 30-7 before taking a 34-33 lead with 20 second left only to lose on a Rene Parades 52-yard field goal as time expired – taught him anything new about this team he didn’t already know, Denmark was blunt.

“Nope,” he said. “I always knew we were a tough team and we will never quit. I also believe we can play with anybody in this league and win. It’s just us. We’re not going to enjoy watching the film on this one.”

Clarence Denmark (89) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

That was a common refrain in the Bomber room Saturday after their seven game win streak was snapped by the Stamps. And it was by no means an attempt to find some sort of silver lining in falling to 8-5, but an overwhelming sense of frustration.

After all, as bitter as it was to lose like that – Jermarcus Hardrick’s post-game comments Saturday nailed the mood – there was also an understanding that no team should expect to play just 25 minutes and win, let alone against an opponent like the Stampeders, now an impressive 11-1-1.

“I’m upset, less about the end result but more about how we started because if we start better we’re not even facing that end result.”

Tony Burnett

“You have to play a full game so that you don’t leave it up to those kind of situations. That’s what hurts the most. We went out in the second half and did what we should have been doing at the start of the game. If we just execute, the rest will take care of itself.

“But that’s why this one stings. It definitely stings. It was right there.”

A couple of Bombers had spoken in the days leading up to Saturday’s game about how a victory would inch them closer to the Stamps and the possibility of taking a run at first place, even with Calgary having already clinched the season series.

Now the focus has to change, what with the next three games – including back-to-back home games – coming against the two teams sandwiching them in the standings in the 8-4 B.C. Lions and the Edmonton Eskimos, 6-7.

A win this Friday against Edmonton would not only give them a six-point cushion with four games remaining, but also clinch the season series for the Bombers. And with the home-and-home series coming up against the Lions – Oct. 8th here and Oct. 14th in Vancouver – Winnipeg has a chance to lock down a home playoff game by starting another win streak.

As Hardrick said Saturday while his teammates packed up:

“It’s been a while since we lost and so it’s a bad feeling right now. It’s a bad taste I want to get out of my mouth right now. I’m ready to play Edmonton.”

Ryan Smith (12) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

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

AS AWFUL AS THE FIRST HALF WAS SATURDAY… and it was bad, as the Bombers fell behind 24-0 and trailed 27-7 at the intermission, something clicked in the second as they out-scored the Stamps 27-6 after a Paredes field goal in the third.

It’s natural to assume Calgary took its foot off the gas with that kind of lead, but the Bombers’ rally also helped the game partly live up to the pre-game hype.

Still, if you think head coach Mike O’Shea delivered a paint-peeling speech to rally the troops during halftime, well, think again.

O’Shea said he spoke very briefly, but…

“You can just tell when you go in the room… the mood of the room, the understanding they have, what guys are talking about,” said O’Shea. “It was not a quiet room. They got it figured out.”

“Not much needed to be said,” added Matt Nichols. “Everyone here has the confidence that we can always come back and win football games and we can always win every game we’re playing in. A little bit was said that we needed to clean up some things, but it wasn’t some huge rocket science math problem that we solved at halftime. It was that we needed to come out and play more solid football. And we did.”

THE BOMBERS FINAL 25 MINUTES… looked a whole more like the club that had won seven straight. Nichols, who was just nine of 20 for 88 yards with an interception – just his second of the year – in the opening half, was more decisive in delivering the ball in the second half and finished 27 of 44 for 287 with TD strikes to Denmark and Julian Feoli-Gudino with 20 seconds left.

The defence and special teams tackled better, they couldn’t have been much worse than in the first half, and they forced turnovers and played with a physicality that was sorely absent early.

“(Jamaal) Westerman spoke at halftime,” said cornerback Chris Randle. “He’s one of our leaders. I don’t know if people were pressing or we really wanted to win so bad that we weren’t playing as loose as we were supposed to. West (Westerman) has a good voice, but we all felt as though we weren’t playing our brand of football.”

Bo Levi Mitchell (19) and Jamaal Westerman (55) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

NONE OF THE BOMBERS WERE AWARE… at halftime of the comments Bo Levi Mitchell made to TSN’s Farhan Lalji during the break – “They’re finding out who they are right now and we’re going to continue to show them.”

But it’s not like the guys in blue, gold and white would have needed any extra fuel after such an awful first half, anyway. Told of his former teammate’s comments afterward and whether the rally showed the Stamps anything, Randle said:

“We weren’t trying to show them anything. We were just trying to prove to ourselves that we can play ball. We put ourselves in a position that was hard to come back from, so we did a good job of rallying.”

Mitchell was approached post-game about his comments by the media and said they were directed at a certain player (Westerman). Here’s what he said after the game:

“I meant what I said, but it had nothing to do with Winnipeg. Specifically, it was a very certain player who was hitting people after the whistle, chirping, holding guys down, trying to do stuff and playing dirty like he always does. We all know who he is, you all know who he is, he knows who he is, and that’s just what it is.

“That’s who I’m talking about. I apologize if anybody took it the wrong way.”

ONE MORE FROM RANDLE… on the emotions of scoring a go-ahead TD with 20 seconds left to having a 52-yard field goal beat you with no time remaining:

“That’s such a quick flip,” he said. “You go from the almost-high of winning a game to the extreme low of losing like that. It’s hard to deal with. But this is strong. We fought back in that game and we’ve got a lot of fight in us.”

Chris Randle (8) during the game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB. Saturday, September 24, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

IT’S SO EASY TO SECOND GUESS… in football, but Nichols would have none of the suggestion the Bombers could have ‘milked’ a little off the clock in the final minute.

“Nah. We scored with 15 seconds or so left. If we flirt with any more than that, you’re living dangerously,” he said. “We needed a touchdown and I can’t pass up a guy that’s open on the goal line just because we want to kill a little more time. We had 1:40 left (1:36, at the start of their last possession, beginning at their own 44-yard line) and pretty much used the entire thing and got in the end zone, so… obviously if there was 2 ½ minutes left and we were going in and there was still a minute left on the clock, you might try and run the ball on first down and then try and throw it in, but where we were in the game we were just trying to score a touchdown.”

Besides, when a team hands the ball over to the opposition offence on their 29-yard line with just 15 seconds left, it needs just one player to step up and make a play, whether it’s a tipped pass or a pressure, or a break-up at the other end.

AND, FINALLY… lost in the Bombers’ recent run was an accomplishment by Denmark we need to point out here. Denmark has quietly moved into the club’s Top 10 receiving-yardage list, passing Bomber hall of famers Ken ‘Doc’ Nielsen, who played from 1965-70, and Gerald Wilcox, who starred from 1992-97, to move into ninth place.

Kudos, Clarence.

And here is the Top 10 list of mighty Bomber receiving legends:

Player / Yrs / Rec / Yds

Milt Stegall  (1995-08) – 854 – 15,153

James Murphy (1983-90) – 573 – 9,036

Joe Poplawski (1978-86) – 549 – 8,341

Terrence Edwards (2007-13) – 469 – 7,200

Rick House (1979-91) – 385 – 6,266

Perry Tuttle (1986-91) – 321 – 5,817

Ernie Pitts (1957-69) – 337 – 5,525

Jeff Boyd (1983-87) – 283 – 5,110

Clarence Denmark (2011-16) – 341 – 4,634

Gerald Wilcox (1992-96) – 299 – 4,608