For the second time in as many weeks, the Ottawa Redblacks went toe-to-toe with the two-time defending Grey Cup champions, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The script was much the same in both games, however, with both defences playing well, Ottawa’s offence being unable to punch their long drives into the endzone for touchdowns, and the Bombers finding the big play when it mattered the most. The result? A 19-12 win for the Bombers, pushing them to 2-0, while dropping the Redblacks to 0-2.
It’s only the second time in franchise history that the Redblacks have dropped their first two games of the season. Tying that record doesn’t paint a clear picture of what has taken place early in the season, especially considering they are clearly better than the 2019 and 2021 editions of the team, but still, they are where they are in the standings.
“As I told the players, I’m not happy with where we’re sitting at 0-2,” said head coach Paul LaPolice. “But I am happy with the men in the room. I am happy with the effort. We have to be better to be successful, especially against the two-time defending Grey Cup champions. We need to have belief, and we’ll put ourselves in a position to go where we want to go.”
Outside of being unable to score a touchdown in the game (a sight that has become all too familiar for the home fans over the years), the Redblacks did themselves no favours with some of their mistakes over the course of the contest.
“We had a bunch of penalties tonight,” LaPolice said. “We had a couple of turnovers, but I haven’t seen all the film yet. We certainly have to capitalize and you can’t lose the turnover battle against this team.”
But the biggest concern is unquestionably the lack of touchdowns. The Redblacks made four trips to the red zone on Friday night, scoring just six points. Yes, one did come at the end of the game where they needed to score a touchdown and turned the ball over on downs, but even without that, there were three great opportunities to score points, and they only came away with six. Had they scored on two of those three, the game could have been very different.
“We’re moving the ball, but we have to finish with sevens,” LaPolice said. “That was our goal this week, and we have to make sure that we end up putting ourselves in that position. Especially with this team, you may have a big 50-yard play, but they don’t let you score.”
Despite the back-to-back losses, the Blue Bombers offered the Redblacks some early lessons on how difficult it is going to be to win this season. Winnipeg is one of the better teams in the league for a reason, and there’s a lot to learn for a still-gelling Redblacks squad.
“It was a good challenge for us facing those guys back-to-back,” Masoli said. “I’m disappointed, for sure.”
“Two things that come to mind right now are the fumble, obviously that led to them scoring a touchdown, and that’s on me 100 percent,” Masoli said, reflecting on some of the game’s turning points. “And then the throw to Darvin [Adams]. I had a little pressure to the right, but if I just throw that out there a little more… He routed that guy up a long time ago, so we gotta work on that, and we have to be better.”
“We still have things to keep building on. We’re moving the ball great, but just as a whole on offence, we have to get more comfortable down there in the red zone scoring the ball and putting up sevens. We gotta give our defence a little breathing room.”
“We had a lot of stuff there,” Masoli said. “I thought coach called a great game and we just weren’t able to execute a couple more plays. If we did, we were up two possessions, so we gotta figure it out.”
In 2019 and 2021, the Redblacks took whatever moral victories they could find in the midst of their usually non-competitive blowouts, but this season, when the expectations are higher, that’s not good enough, nor is it going to help them get better. This game is no different.
“I think I would be hesitant to call it a fine line, it’s a line,” said receiver Nate Behar. “I don’t want to do the whole moral victory thing, and I think there’s a big difference between moral victories and people patting themselves on the back. You might not get what you need to out of it, which is just work your ass off and get better.”
“It’s understanding that you have a good enough room to do great things, and then understanding what hasn’t been good enough to do it yet,” Behar said. “It’s not restart everything, blow it all up, it’s we can do X, Y, and Z, we know we have thrown for X amount of yards in two games, we clearly have this and that, what is missing, and how do we improve it?”
With the Redblacks now 0-2 and heading into their bye week, they have some time to prepare for their next game against the BC Lions. It will also offer the chance for the players to grow closer together, and it seems like they will be taking advantage of the time.
“I’ll be here,” said Masoli. “We have a lot of guys sticking around and we’re going to get to work. Avery Williams just said it, don’t waste time, don’t be sitting on the couch, come back healthy and be in better shape, and we’ll be back ready to go on a roll.”
The reality of the situation is clear in the locker room.
“We are 0-2, let it sting, soak it in during the bye week, but have that hunger to be better,” Behar said.
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