Calgary club sunk by key injuries, inconsistency, lack of momentum during six-win debacle

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You have to rewind all the way to 2004 to find the last time the Calgary Stampeders suffered through less than a six-win CFL season.

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So this year’s record — 6-13, which includes Saturday’s 41-30 playoff loss to the host BC Lions — isn’t sitting well with anybody at McMahon Stadium.

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“Just not good enough — we just fell short,” said Stampeders GM/head coach Dave Dickenson. “It wasn’t a season that any of us want to look back on and say it was anywhere close to a success.

“It’s tough when it finishes poorly,” continued Dickenson. “It’s very abrupt when things end. Hopefully, you have a chance at least to tie up loose ends and communicate with the guys and get a plan for next year.”

The Stampeders started that process Sunday with exit meetings and critical conversations, all with the aim of trying to dissect what happened in 2023 and how to push forward from here.

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Because just “not good enough” is not going to cut it.

And they know it.

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“I certainly have to look at everything and have to look in the mirror myself and figure out what is the best combination to get the most out of our players,” Dickenson said. “We’re a tight staff and team. I didn’t see anybody pointing fingers at anybody.

“The best part about it — and I told the guys this — was that everyone continued to work. I felt like I was working with men and professionals — staff and players — and it’s not that way all the time, especially when it’s not going your way.”

Indeed, it didn’t go their way from the git-go.

Only two wins in their first seven games set them off on the wrong foot.

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Then came just one more win — a 20-7 decision to topple the powerhouse Toronto Argonauts — ahead of the Stamps’ Labour Day victory over the weak-rival Edmonton Elks.

After that, the Red and White were stuck on four Ws until two consecutive late-season victories — over the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Lions — suddenly propelled them into the playoffs for an 18th-straight CFL campaign.

But that remarkable streak couldn’t guarantee them proper Grey Cup pursuit in the post-season, as they were overwhelmed in the West Division semi-final in Vancouver.

And Dickenson was left to try and make sense of it all.

“The playmakers really didn’t step up,” said Dickenson of the losing year. “We didn’t really feel like a confident group. And that’s sometimes because you lose.

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“I thought we had a bunch of injuries and overcame a lot of them, but we lost a lot of our depth, and it just seemed like they just kept piling up. We couldn’t get anything good to happen. Like we win a game, and then we would lose a heartbreaker. We just couldn’t find any momentum to really kind of feel good about our team.

“It was a battle, man. It was a battle.”

Nothing like the 12-7 season the year before or the 16 before that when the Stampeders always seemed to be championship contenders or ultimately were crowned champions.

“One group made plays and the other groups didn’t make plays,” said Dickenson of the three units — offence, defence and special teams. “And that was kind of like all season. We very rarely had consistency out of all three groups (at the same time).

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“And I don’t think any one position can say they had a great year. Even our linebackers, which are probably the strength of our entire team, I know everybody there can be better and wants to be better.”

It certainly didn’t help the Stampeders that the sick bay was stuffed full of talent and potential on a weekly basis.

The biggest loss was sack-master extraordinaire James Vaughters, a prized off-season signing who played the first six games before an arm injury ended his year.

“That was an injury, probably if you look at, that it was the hardest for us to replace,” said Dickenson of Vaughters. “Pass-rushers are tough to find. Probably offensive tackles and pass-rushers are the toughest to find. We really love having him on the Calgary Stampeders. So the goal would be to have James back and playing like he was before he got back.”

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That injured list also featured the likes of veteran offensive lineman Hugh Thornton, young linebacker Silas Stewart, young defensive lineman T.J. Rayam and talented defensive back Titus Wall missing big chunks of the schedule.

And a trio of talented pass-catchers were also shelved due to injury — Malik Henry and Clark Barnes for much of the back-half of the season and Jalen Philpot for all of 2023.

“Those are three guys that we think are playmakers — and different styles, too,” Dickenson said of Henry, Barnes and Philpot. “And (running back) Ka’Deem (Carey) didn’t end up playing a lot of the season, either. I think he had only six or seven games. He’s another big part of it.”

Whether any or all of the injured are back in Calgary colours next season remains to be scene.

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Many CFL players are on year-to-year contracts with clubs, so high turnover is likely throughout the lineup.

Most of that business will get done in the new year. The Stamps don’t have a lot of room under the cap to sign guys because of all the injuries that came up and the need to replace those players proved costly under the 2023 budget.

But the off-season is for the days ahead.

Right now, it’s about reflection to figure out what can be learned from the rough ride.

“It’s been the same feeling all year,” added Mike Rose, the Stampeders’ sack-leader — with 11. “You can’t take the losses too hard, especially when you have so many of them. But when they do start to stack up, then it gets very aggravating to a point. But it’s pro sports.

“We kept fighting. We didn’t give up. But at the end of the day, the result wasn’t good enough.”

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