TORONTO — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were never going to win every game this season. But given the way they performed Saturday against the Toronto Argonauts, it was apparent early on they were destined for defeat.
With an offence that struggled to move the ball, a defence that played admirably but ran out of gas by night’s end and an inconsistent effort from special teams, the Bombers suffered their first loss of 2021, falling to the Argonauts 30-23 in front of 9,866 fans at BMO Field.
Winnipeg is now 2-1 on the season and back in the thick of what will likely be a photo-finish race in the West Division. The victory improved the Argonauts to 2-1 on the year.
“I thought we made some mistakes. They put 13 on us quickly in the first quarter,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said after the game. “I thought there were some moments of physicality. We didn’t sustain that and we left it a little too late. We didn’t get them off the field enough to withstand it. Hey, full credit to them. They came out and did their jobs and did what they were supposed to do.”
Energized by playing at home for the first time this season, it became clear early on that the Argonauts were ready for a fight. A week before, in a 20-7 Bombers win at IG Field, Toronto was limited to just one touchdown, which came late in the third quarter.
The Bombers defence had averaged an impressive 6.5 points against through the first two games, but were hit hard by the Argonauts right out of the gate. Toronto scored on four of its first five drives, including three field goals from Boris Bede — hitting from 52, 32 and 31 yards, respectively — and a 10-yard touchdown run by D.J. Foster.
Argonauts quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who earned his first start after nursing an injured hamstring, went 23-for-32 for 310 passing yards and a touchdown — a 35-yard strike in the dying seconds of the first half to DaVaris Daniels. Daniels later left the game after a violent hit from Bombers safety Brandon Alexander that left him concussed. Arbuckle also added a one-yard touchdown run to make it 29-15 late in the third quarter.
“That changed the attitude of the offence a little bit,” Arbuckle said of the hit against Daniels. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get going and score as many points after that as we wanted to. We were all kind of playing with a little bit of an edge and unfortunately kind of showed up in the (referee’s) whistle a few times, but we felt like we needed to protect a guy that they injured with what we felt like was a cheap shot.”
In total, the Argonauts registered 419 yards of net offence, including 149 on the ground. That’s the second straight week against Winnipeg that Toronto has eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark.
“They picked and chose when they took their shots. Other than that, they got the ball out of his hand very quickly,” O’Shea said. “They ran the ball very effectively. And when you’re making yards on those short passes, and when you’re running the ball and you’re having success, I don’t know that you need to do much more. They finished the game off with getting a couple first downs in the run or whatever. We understand that brand of football.”
In the end, though, the loss can’t be pinned on the defence; in fact, it was the Bombers D that kept them in the game, forcing five fumbles, recovering two, including one by Jackson Jeffcoat that was returned 80 yards by Jesse Briggs for a touchdown.
It was the Bombers offence that couldn’t get much going, unable to keep their defence off the field with meaningful drives. The Argonauts dominated time of possession, 39:46 to 20:19. Also something to consider: when Zach Collaros, who finished 18-for-33 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, connected with Darvin Adams for a 51-yard touchdown, Winnipeg had more dropped balls, with two, than they did first downs.
“Not good enough to win a football game,” Collaros said. “It was frustrating and disappointing offensively.”
Winnipeg finished with 233 offensive yards, 32 of which came on the ground. O’Shea disagreed with the notion a one-dimensional offence was a significant factor in the loss, pointing to last week’s win over Toronto when the Bombers had just 53 yards on the ground.
Still, it’s obvious there needs to be an improvement. And with Andrew Harris still likely a ways away from returning from a calf injury, it’s difficult to know when that will happen. Perhaps that will be next week against the Calgary Stampeders, who allowed 157 rushing yards to Montreal Friday despite earning a 28-22 win.
“It is frustrating but you can’t dwell on it. I think we do a good job of flushing the bad plays and just focusing on the plays at hand,” Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld said. “We’ll be critical of ourselves and we’ll find ways to get better so we can stay on the field, sustain drives and get the ball in the end zone.”
The Bombers will need to continue to monitor their kicking game, with a seemingly good possibility of moving on from kicker Tyler Crapigna. Crapigna missed two field goal tries, including a blocked 37-yard attempt and a 47-yarder that sailed wide left.
O’Shea took the blame for his decision, after winning the coin toss, to select field position over the ball, with the plan to get the wind in the fourth quarter. That resulted in Toronto starting with the ball at the start of each half. He also shouldered some of the discipline issues, as the Bombers took a season-high 18 penalties for a total of 149 yards.
“I got to do a better job of coaching situational football and making sure I’m reminding the guys how this is going to play out,” O’Shea said. “So, I would think five of those penalties we could have avoided with a better conversation from me about situational football.”
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