The Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat themselves Saturday, as interceptions and fumbles gave the Calgary Stampeders a 32-21 win and sole possession of second place in the CFL's West Division.
"I've never been around a team that's turned a ball over seven times and won a game," said Winnipeg interim coach Tim Burke, whose team sunk to a league-worst 4-11 .
Calgary coach John Hufnagel said Winnipeg played well enough right up to the red zone after a disastrous first quarter when the Stampeders picked up 16 points, thanks largely to two key fumbles.
"Offensively, as much as we moved the ball in the first half, we didn't in the second half, so the defence is out there a lot," Hufnagel said after his team improved to 9-6. "They did a nice job of completing passes but when they got towards the red zone, we came up with huge interceptions."
'They did a nice job of completing passes but when they got towards the red zone, we came up with huge interceptions.'—Stampeders coach John Hufnagel
Winnipeg quarterback Joey Elliott threw four picks, three of them into the end zone on plays that could have turned the game.
"I've got to take full responsibility for those three mistakes," said Elliott, making his second start since replacing Buck Pierce after he received a concussion Sept. 29.
Elliott's last start was far more successful, an upset 27-22 win over the Montreal Alouettes last week that injected a little life into the Bombers' faint playoff hopes.
Whether he will start again — with or without Pierce's return — seemed doubtful Saturday. Burke pulled him late in the fourth in favour of Alex Brink, who threw a touchdown pass and for a few minutes made it look like a comeback was possible.
"In Joey's defence, he hasn't played a lot of football," said Burke. "I'm sure he's still learning and all that but I would have thought we could have got past at least some of those interceptions in the red zone."
One interception, intended for Clarence Denmark in the end zone in the third quarter, could have brought the Bombers within five. Another intended for Terrence Edwards in the fourth quarter could have done the same thing, after a scoreless third.
Elliott's last interception, in the fourth quarter, was also in the end zone.
Burke said Demond Washington won't be returning any more footballs for the Bombers, after fumbles that cost the team dearly. His first led to a touchdown.
It was one of two first-quarter touchdowns triggered by fumbles. The second ball was lost by running back Chad Simpson, who redeemed himself with two second-quarter touchdowns of his own.
Winnipeg's time of possession was a miserly 1:34 going into the second quarter.
Calgary quarterback Kevin Glenn, who finished 21-of-29 passing for 286 yards, said the Stampeders' gameplan of scoring early and building a cushion worked.
Accounting for the loss
"We knew it was going to be a fight," he said. "We knew they weren't going to lay down and give it to us."
Glenn played five seasons with the Bombers, ending in 2008.
Calgary had touchdowns from Jon Cornish, Nik Lewis and Marquay McDaniel. Rene Paredes kicked four field goals.
Rookie receiver Chris Matthews, who passed the 1,000-yard mark Saturday, had Winnipeg's third touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The mood in the Bombers dressing room was predictably dour as players accounted for the loss and their part in it.
"In the first half we struggled a lot, myself included," said Jovon Johnson, who played strong-side linebacker position rather than his customary position in the secondary. "We had to make adjustments at halftime because they came out doing things we hadn't seen before."
Johnson was also thrown in as a kick returner after Washington was pulled.
"You have to take care of the small things, like me holding the ball," said Simpson, referring to his fumble. "I know that we have good players here."
But he refused to write off the Bombers' playoff hopes, which remain a statistical possibility, if not much else.
"As long as we have a chance, I'll never feel that it's over."
Johnson was more pragmatic.
"If Edmonton wins again, it absolutely takes us out," he said.
Edmonton could cross over to take the final playoff spot in the east.
To have any real hope of stopping that, Winnipeg has to win all of its final games, including contests against Montreal and Toronto, the top teams in the East.