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This article was published 24/7/2017 (1523 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was days after Friday’s 45-42 loss to the B.C. Lions and yet Mike O’Shea knew the questions were coming. The head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had pulled out all the stops in an attempt to tame the Lions, but there was one play in particular that had fans roaring after the game.
"It’s my call," O’Shea said following Monday’s practice at Investors Group Field. "Everything that goes on, on that field, is my call."
What O'Shea was talking about, of course, was the Bombers’ decision to attempt a fake punt late in the game despite a number of reasons not to. At the time, Winnipeg was up 42-34, facing third-and-15 on their own 26-yard line.
Still, O’Shea gave the green light to Justin Medlock to attempt a pass instead of punting the ball away. Medlock’s pass was nowhere near the intended target, defensive back Derek Jones, and just barely slipped through the hands of the Lions’ Dakota Brush before hitting the turf. Lions took over the ball and two plays later scored the tying touchdown and later would hit a go-ahead field goal after a Matt Nichols’ interception to complete the comeback.
"They also had a defender that split both our cover guys and he ended up coming across and making a play," O’Shea argued, adding, "There is a lot of thought that goes into them – they’re well designed. When they’re bringing pressure and you’re not honouring a cover guy, there’s an opportunity there that you want to take advantage of. And we’ll continue to want to take advantage of those opportunities."
The problem was that the Bombers were unable to take advantage and it cost them dearly. Furthermore, for all the thought that went into the play, Jones appeared clueless to the fact he was to receive the ball; his back faced the ball the entire play, turning only after it was too late.
O’Shea, fittingly, shot down the suggestion a miscommunication took place.
"There are good signs on (the film) that he knows, but it’s a longer-yardage play," he said. "He’s also trying to get to a certain yard marker and it didn’t work. It just didn’t work."
Asked if he regretted the play, O’Shea stood firm again, showing similar comfort in defending his actions at the same time shouldering complete blame. It was a response similar to last year when he faced criticism over another call he made at BC Place against the Lions in the West Division semifinal. It was then, with a minute remaining down by one point, he elected to attempt a game-deciding 61-yard field goal instead of handing it over to his offence on third-and-four.
"We’d do it again," O’Shea said. "If teams want to bring pressure and try and block punts and they don’t want to cover our gunners then we’re going to have to throw the ball to get them to stop rushing the punter like that. Or continue to risk getting the punt blocked."
O’Shea also said he would re-kick the 61-yard attempt when asked after the game last November, making his response this time around not all that surprising. That time he was taking the ball away from an offence under Matt Nichols that was having one of it’s best games of the season. On Friday, O’Shea’s actions suggested he was unwilling to trust his defence that had been feasted on by the Lions’ offence early, but was playing its best football in the third quarter.
"In any decision, in any part of the game, you take into account the flow of the game," said O’Shea, when asked about the role the defence’s play had in the decision. "I don’t think you have time on every play to do a pros and cons list but you’re certainly keeping track of the flow of the game. The time of possession, who’s out there longer, how we’re moving the ball, how we’re not moving the ball, kicking, the wind – whatever situations apply to that particular game – they go into formulating every decision."
Chris Randle, the Bombers’ veteran defensive back and one of its main leaders on the defence, said Monday he doesn’t like the use of trick plays in a game.
"I feel like we’re talented enough to win on all three phases just straight up and that’s just my firm belief," Randle said. "But we understand if there’s an advantage in our favour we’re going to take it. Anytime that coach calls it we just execute it as if it’s another play."
Randle, who is a key member on special teams, said the fake punt was not only practised but also perfected over the past week. Though disappointed with the result, what bothered him the most was despite great field position for the Lions, the defence wasn’t able to prevent B.C. from getting into the end zone.
"We’ve got to respond and finish the game," Randle said. "No one is happy about it, no one wants a turnover in that time of the game and in that area of the field but you got to respond."
Nine-year CFL veteran Andrew Harris said he had never seen a play like that called in a football game. And though he wouldn’t lament the call, he did offer up some insight into what might have been the motive behind it.
If it’s there, it’s there – you got to take your shots when you can," the Bombers running back said. "Obviously there’s times where it’s more risky but at the end of the day if that play works you’re asking a different question. It’s one of those things where sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t."
This time it didn’t. And the Bombers, now 2-2, are moving on and have began to prepare for Thursday’s home game against the Montreal Alouettes. There, the plan will once again be to win, any means necessary.
"Everybody in that room, every in our organization hates to lose," O’Shea said. "This is one of those things that I know I’ll have to look at and I’m OK with that. These are the decisions I make and I got to learn from them and live with them."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.