Year in Review #2: Joy and Pain

Started by ModAdmin, January 04, 2024, 06:46:24 AM

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Year in Review #2: Joy and Pain - Ed Tait

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' 2023 season ended in much the same fashion as 2022 - with a series of 'if only' sentiments that captured all the emotions and frustrations after a crushing defeat in the 110th Grey Cup.

And that negative vibe following the 28-24 loss to the Montreal Alouettes will only bleed deeper into the offseason, especially as it comes one winter after a devastating one-point defeat to the Toronto Argonauts in the 2022 championship.

So, Bomber fans are left to stew on this for a spell:

    If only... the Blue Bombers hadn't turned the ball over twice in the score zone against the Alouettes.
    If only... the Blue Bombers defence had held in the final moments and thrown up a roadblock on 2nd-and-18 and 3rd-and-5 situations on the Alouettes final drive, before Cody Fajardo found Tyson Philpot for a 19-yard score with 15 seconds remaining in what was the latest game-winning touchdown in Grey Cup history.
    If only... somewhere along those three hours on November 19th at Tim Hortons Field someone - anyone - had just made one more play that might have helped turn defeat into victory.

All that - the questions and the pain from the Grey Cup loss coming after a win over the B.C. Lions in the West Final - comes in at #2 in our Blue Bombers Year in Review series.

"I'm numb. And it just hurts, because I love these guys," said right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick after the loss that night in late November. "This is not the way any of us wanted this to end. But I love these guys. I'm proud of them because we left it all out there."

Yes, the Blue Bombers' 2023 playoff run featured some extreme highs and lows with the win over the B.C. Lions in front of a sold-out crowd at IG Field in the West Final then the disappointment in the championship game eight days later.

And so, as cruel as it is to state, the Blue Bombers' four straight trips to the Grey Cup - with championships in 2019 and 2021 - is now pockmarked by the two successive losses in the championship by a grand total of five points.

"It's just really hard to walk away with a loss right now," said receiver Drew Wolitarsky. "I really just had this moments and visions of celebrating with this team. This s?t felt like destiny. This one's hard for me. I really felt like destiny to win this with this team. Everything felt like it was meant to be with this team - who we had, the guys we had and the feeling we had.

"I kept believing right up until that last kickoff return. It's just really hit me that we lost."

The Blue Bombers were the first team to appear in four straight Grey Cups since Edmonton won five straight from 1978-82 and were looking to establish themselves as a modern-day dynasty with three titles over four seasons.

That was certainly within grasp as Dakota Prukop put the club up 24-21 with 3:12 remaining and, after going two-and-out on its next possession, handed the ball back to the Alouettes with 1:55 left in the game. Fajardo, the Grey Cup MVP, ran for 13 yards on a 2nd-and-18 with 59 seconds left and then hit Cole Spieker for a 31-yard gain on 3rd-and-five before finding Philpot for a championship winning 19-yard score with just 13 seconds remaining.

"Credit to them - they came in hot, and they did what they needed to do when they needed to do it. They played a **** good game," said head coach Mike O'Shea of the Als.

"You look at the entire game and we're a few plays short. And they made some plays, they generated some plays in good positions - timely.

"... I don't know if our guys will remember the score. They'll remember we lost, and they'll remember their teammates who put everything they had in when they stepped on the field."

The Blue Bombers did do so much on Grey Cup Sunday, including seeing Zach Collaros set a championship game record by completing 82.6 percent of his passes (19-of 23), while the offence set a record with the highest time of possession edge (37 minutes, 44 seconds to Montreal's 22:16).

That said, the club did squander two 10-point leads in the game and punted four times (including the game-ending attempt to recover the ball in the open field) and had one interception - along with the Prukop TD ? in the six possessions in the second half.

Just... not... quite... good enough.

"I'm sad," said a tearful Collaros after the game. "You play to win the game, you play to win the last one and we came up short. Montreal was a few plays better than us.

"I'm just really sad because there's a lot of good guys in the locker room; guys that might not be able to play again and you want to win for them and the guys that couldn't be out there. There's a lot of good people and you just don't want to let people down. It's terrible."
"You can't let praise or criticism get to you. It's a weakness to get caught up in either one." - John Wooden