Bo Levi Mitchell is on a roll right now.
Since he returned from a two-month layoff due to a torn pectoral muscle, the Calgary Stampeders quarterback has been on a tear. It’s translated into six wins in seven games for his team.
He’s certainly not the only reason why the Stampeders are putting wins on the board, and there are a tonne of guys on the roster who are steadily improving every single week.
But on Saturday night at McMahon Stadium, Mitchell put in another masterclass as the Stamps overcame a second-half deficit to pull out a 37-33 win.
The reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player completed 22-of-33 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers likely would be a whole lot more impressive if his receivers hadn’t dropped a couple catchable balls that either would have extended drives or put the Stampeders in the endzone.
Mitchell has now thrown for at least 330 yards in four of his last five games and is averaging 377 passing yards per game in that stretch.
On Saturday, he wasn’t afraid to look deep, either.
He hit Eric Rogers with a 55-yard pass on the Stamps’ very first offensive play of the game. He found Josh Huff for a 42-yarder and connected with Reggie Begelton and Hergy Mayala for passes over 20-yards, as well.
“I feel good,” Mitchell said after the game. “I feel that was one of my top performances in a while. I felt sharp. I felt like I was getting the ball out, but honestly, that only happens with every single guy on the field balling-out.”
We’ll get into the players around Mitchell who are stepping up right now later in this story — we have to talk about the offensive line, in particular — but nobody should be taking him for granted right now.
Because he missed so much of the regular season with his injury, Mitchell won’t be seriously considered for any post-season awards by voters. If you want to make an argument that he’s the best player in the CFL right now, though, it’s pretty easy to do.
“I thought Bo played super well, the guy was on fire,” said Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson. “Made some throws that not too many guys in the world make. He was just on target.”
With Mitchell at pivot and the Bombers possibly playing without their own QB, Chris Streveler, in Friday’s rematch in Winnipeg, the Stampeders have to be considered the favourites.
A win Friday would mean that the only thing standing between the Stampeders and clinching first place in the West Division is the B.C. Lions in their final game of the regular season.
That’s an enviable place to be in for any team in the CFL.
Here are 10 other takeaways from Saturday’s big win over the Bombers:
- BOUNCING BACK
There was a moment early in the second quarter when it felt like the wheels were coming off for the Stampeders.
They’d opened up a lead in the first quarter, just like they’d hoped for.
But then, in less than two minutes, the Bombers scored two touchdowns and a field goal. The Stamps turned the ball over twice in that stretch — one fumble, one interception — and it looked like the game was suddenly spiraling out of their control.
When the Stamps offence took the field after the Bombers’ second TD, they calmly and coolly marched downfield.
They started the drive on their own 18-yard line and ended it almost five minutes of game time later when Mitchell found Begelton in the endzone.
“Something we’ve been doing a much better job of is when the other team scores and has a big drive, we’ve been coming back with a drive,” Mitchell said. “That’s huge because it picks the defence up right away and takes the sideline from having heads-down to ‘Ok, we got this.’
“Those are the kinds of drives that win you games, that kind of instil that mindset that you’re a championship team.”
The Bombers’ defensive line is no joke. Willie Jefferson’s as terrifying as any d-lineman in the league and heading into this weeks’ action, they were right in the thick of the race for most teams sacks in the CFL.
The Stamps offensive line, though, did a tremendous job limiting the impact the Bombers d-line could have on the game.
No, the Stamps never managed to get their run game going, but Mitchell was only taken down once and more often than not had lots of time to go through his reads and pick the right pass to make.
Go back and look at some of those deep balls we mentioned earlier. Mitchell has loads of time and space.
Because Canadian Ante Milanovic-Litre started at running back, the Stampeders were able to go back to the three-American o-line they’ve used for most of the season.
That group looks like a keeper.
- ROLLING REGGIE
If you go back and read previous 10 Observations columns from earlier in the season, you’ll probably find a few that say nice things about Reggie Begelton.
But guys, when a receiver is doing what Begelton is doing this year, you just kind of have to talk about it.
Begelton was outstanding on Saturday night — again — and especially in the redzone.
He caught three touchdown passes, two of which were tightly contested. He makes it look so easy when he’s shaking off defenders and finding that extra inch or two of space to get open.
With 91 catches for 1,286 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, Begelton is firmly in the conversation about the CFL’s very best receivers. He’s also the frontrunner to get the Stampeders’ nomination for Most Outstanding Player.
- THE MAN
Brandon Smith has never been the type of player who actively sought out the spotlight.
For 12 years, he’s just showed up at work in the Calgary Stampeders backfield and has done his job — at an elite level, to be sure.
During player introductions for Saturday’s game, the Stamps announced that Smith will be retiring at the end of the season.
It’s something I’ll be writing a lot about in the remaining month of the season and there’s no use trying to contextualize Smith’s importance to the Stampeders organization in a short space like this.
But needless to say, Smith is an all-time great and one of the guys who has come to embody the type of players the Stampeders love to have on their team.
“The one thing I love about Smitty above other people is he’s not a talker and it’s not because he’s not intelligent,” Mitchell said. “He’s one of the smarter guys on the team, but he just wants to lead with what he does, which is come to work and do your job.”
- PROVING IT
Josh Huff didn’t have a seamless transition into Canadian football.
The former Philadelphia Eagles receiver took a while to get going and had a couple games with some bad drops.
But over the past month, he’s been gaining in confidence and has emerged as a real threat for the Stampeders.
On Saturday, he had his second 100-yard game in three weeks, catching all six passes that were thrown his way for 121 yards.
For so long, it seemed like the Stamps receiving corps was basically a two-man wrecking crew of Begelton and Eric Rogers.
Between Huff and Mayala, the past couple of weeks have flipped that narrative. It’s going to make the Stampeders a whole lot more dangerous come playoff-time if Mitchell has faith in four or five receivers instead of just two.
- GETTING THE BALL
Here’s what Stampeders defensive backs coach Josh Bell said about Raheem Wilson’s chances of winning the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie award earlier this week:
“Raheem is a Swiss Army knife. The smart people always have him,” Bell said. “There’s no interceptions, though, and in our world, that’s all they want to see, but he’s done an outrageous job stepping in at field corner and two other spots.”
On Saturday Wilson made his case even more compelling when he picked off Streveler on the opening play of the second half.
It’s only his second interception of the season, but Wilson has been playing a key position in arguably the league’s best defensive backfield every single week this season.
It should also be noted that DaShaun Amos picked up his fifth interception of the season on Saturday, as well. If he hadn’t played two games last year, he’d absolutely be in the conversation for Most Outstanding Rookie, as well.
Janarion Grant is still scary.
The Bombers returner had a 50-yard kickoff return and looked like he might be able to find a hole on a couple other returns.
If you’re the Stamps, you definitely don’t walk away from Saturday’s game feeling like you’ve got Grant figured out.
At least he didn’t score two touchdowns the way he did the last time these teams met, though. That’s gotta count for something, right?
The Stampeders have allowed five kick return touchdowns this year — that’s tied for the worst mark in the league — we’re going to be carefully monitoring how they do in special teams coverage right up until the end of the season.
They looked better Saturday, even if Grant’s still going to be making the Stamps nervous next weekend in Winnipeg.
- GET THEIRS
Saturday’s game was probably always going to come down to the Bombers’ run-game and/or the Stampeders’ pass game.
To their credit, the Bombers did manage to run the ball for 191 yards, while only throwing it for 137. That’s pretty much the sort of stat line you’d expect.
The same can be said about the Stamps. Yes, they threw for 337 yards, but they only finished with 33 yards on the ground.
Stamps running back Milanovic-Litre will regret his second-quarter fumble, but he was much better in the second half when he seemed to commit to putting his head down and running a little more downhill.
Don Jackson should be back at starting running back for the Stamps next weekend, and it will be interesting to see what sort of difference he makes.
For the Bombers, meanwhile, they are what we thought they were. Yeah, they can run the ball, but that doesn’t help much when you’re down four points and the clock is running down.
- EVERY WEEK
After the game, Dickenson said he was hopeful that the injury defensive end Cordarro Law suffered in the fourth quarter was nothing too serious.
Stamps fans better hope the same because Law has been such a huge part of the defence’s success this year.
He’s got 10 sacks this season, and while he didn’t add to that total on Saturday he did have five tackles. This was also a game where the Stampeders had to be mindful of the Bombers’ run-game at all times, so it wasn’t like Law was going after sacks on every play.
His chase-down tackle of Streveler in the fourth quarter was a massive moment, too.
Also, we should take a quick second to note that Chris Casher now has six sacks in his first year as a starter. The guy is no joke.
- DO IT AGAIN
If the rematch next weekend in Winnipeg is anywhere near as back-and-forth as Saturday’s game at McMahon, we’re in for a treat.
There’s a reason to wonder if that’ll be the case, though.
Streveler looked to be in a lot of pain in the fourth quarter, and you have to wonder whether Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea will regret allowing him to return to the game. Yes, it was a must-win situation, but Streveler was clearly struggling.
If Streveler’s out, it’s just hard to see how the Bombers will be able to put points up on the board against the Stampeders.
Nobody should expect it to be a walk in the park for the Stamps, but they’ve gotta be the favourites.