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Another wrong call from O'Shea

Fake punt snatches defeat from jaws of victory

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADINA PRESS</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea reacts after a call in Edmonton Eskimos’ favour during first half CFL western semifinal action in Winnipeg Sunday, November 12, 2017. </p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADINA PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea reacts after a call in Edmonton Eskimos’ favour during first half CFL western semifinal action in Winnipeg Sunday, November 12, 2017.

We could, of course, spend this time talking about Mike O’Shea.

We could talk about how Sunday’s boneheaded fake punt in the West semifinal looked so much like last year’s boneheaded 61-yard field goal attempt in the West semifinal.

We could talk about how in the biggest moments, O’Shea has two years in a row made the wrong call and seized defeat from the jaws of victory.

And we could talk about how four full seasons into his reign as the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Mike O’Shea still hasn’t won a playoff game.

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We could, of course, spend this time talking about Mike O’Shea.

We could talk about how Sunday’s boneheaded fake punt in the West semifinal looked so much like last year’s boneheaded 61-yard field goal attempt in the West semifinal.

We could talk about how in the biggest moments, O’Shea has two years in a row made the wrong call and seized defeat from the jaws of victory.

And we could talk about how four full seasons into his reign as the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Mike O’Shea still hasn’t won a playoff game.

But what would be the point. Because it doesn’t matter what I think about O’Shea — or what you think, for that matter.

Because Mike O’Shea isn’t going anywhere.

For reasons that have never been readily apparent to me — and are even less apparent today — the people who make these decisions for the Winnipeg Football Club remain convinced O’Shea is the man who is going to finally end a championship drought that reached 27 years Sunday afternoon with a 39-32 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos at Investors Group Field.

Doug Berry took the Bombers to the playoffs three times in his three years as Bombers head coach, including to the Grey Cup in 2007, and was a coach of the year nominee in 2006. He still got fired in 2008 after his third season in Winnipeg.

Paul LaPolice took the Bombers to the Grey Cup in his second year as Bombers head coach in 2011 — and also was a coach of the year nominee that year. He didn’t even get through Year 3 before he got fired.

And O’Shea? He’s head coach for life, near as I can tell.

With two more years left on his contract and the complete confidence of both Bombers GM Kyle Walters and CEO Wade Miller, O’Shea’s got more job security than anyone in this town, with the possible exception of Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff.

And none of that will have changed meaningfully after Sunday’s events.

Now, make no mistake: the turning point in Sunday’s semifinal came three minutes into the third quarter when the Bombers botched a fake punt on their own 42-yard line and turned the ball over on downs.

Four plays later, the ball was in the Bombers end zone and what until that point had been a tight 11-10 game — one that I thought was slowly tilting towards the Bombers — was suddenly an 18-10 Eskimos lead.

And the Eskimos never again looked back. Energized by their good fortune, Edmonton spent the next 15 minutes stomping whatever designs the Bombers had of a Grey Cup this season into the ground, amassing a 39-16 stranglehold barely three minutes into the fourth quarter.

The Bombers put up a couple of late touchdowns in garbage time to make the score look respectable, but really, all it did was remind Bombers Nation what might have been.

The final margin of defeat? Seven points, exactly equal to that touchdown the Esks scored off that botched fake punt.

Game over. And with it, a Bombers season that looked more promising than any I can recall in these parts for a very long time.

A Bombers team that was 9-3 at one point this season and looking destined for an appearance in the West Final ultimately lost four of their last seven games to end up in the exact same place they were at this time last year: watching the divisional final on television.

It was a familiar script for a Bombers organization that won seven in a row at mid-season last year only to go 3-3 in their last six and lose the semifinal in B.C..

If you judge a team by how they finish, this Bombers organization has been left wanting, again. One year was maybe a fluke, but collapsing when it matters two years in a row is looking like the start of a pattern.

Injuries? Sure, the Bombers had lots of them, many late in the season. But it is worth noting again in this space: the Edmonton Eskimos lost more games to injury this season than all but one other team in the history of the CFL — and yet they’re travelling to Calgary this week to play a West Division final against the Calgary Stampeders.

Winners find a way. Everyone else finds an excuse.

Silver linings? Well, it depends whether you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty type.

Half full? The Bombers offence was spectacular at times this season and the club led the league in total points scored for the first time since 2001.

Half empty? The defence was lousy — they gave up more yards than any team other than woeful Montreal.

Half full? QB Matt Nichols proved, beyond a doubt, that he is the kind of elite QB this Bombers organization can build a future around.

Half empty? The guy who built the offence that helped Nichols blossom — offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice — is reportedly in consideration to take over the head coach job in Montreal next season.

Half full? The Bombers finally hosted a playoff game for the first time in five seasons at Investors Group Field.

Half empty? They lost, in front of a big and boisterous crowd that deserved better for braving the elements instead of staying comfy and warm at home watching on TSN.

Half full? Attendance at IGF was up this season after a three-year skid. That’s big, real big. And every taxpayer in Manitoba should be grateful.

Half empty? Did we mention that Grey Cup drought is now 27 years?

On a day that was always going to be about who made fewer mistakes, the Bombers made the biggest mistake of all — a self-inflicted one — when they decided to roll the dice on a trick play in a game that was all about field position.

What might have been? We’ll never know now. For the second year in a row, the Bombers lost a playoff game on the sidelines, instead of between the lines.

And that’s the biggest shame of all.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Read more by Paul Wiecek.

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History

Updated on Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 10:52 PM CST: Edited

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