Bombers lose ugly in Montreal

MONTREAL – The only thing uglier than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers performance against the Montreal Alouettes Saturday afternoon was the weather.

Playing under sheets of rain for much of the day, the Alouettes took full advantage of a watered-down Bombers team absent many of its starters, turning that into a 28-14 win in front of an announced crowd of 12,605 at Percival Molson Stadium.

“I’m not looking at the lineup as anything but the lineup we came here with, that we thought we were gonna win the game with,” head coach Mike O’Shea said after the loss. “You win and lose for very specific reasons and this one was probably turnover ratio. Turnover margin hurt us today. We’ve been on the winning end of that margin a lot this year and today we were on the wrong end of it.”

In some ways, the result was predictable.

Having already clinched the West Division weeks ago, the Bombers opted to keep several of their key contributors back home in order to preserve their health for the West final on Dec. 5. Winnipeg was without three players in the secondary, including safety Brandon Alexander and defensive backs Deatrick Nichols and Nick Taylor. Jackson Jeffcoat, the team’s leader in sacks, and left tackle Stanley Bryant, the CFL’s best offensive lineman, was also given the game off.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Jonathan Kongbo, right, sacks Montreal Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris during first half. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Jonathan Kongbo, right, sacks Montreal Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris during first half. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

The biggest change, and the one that proved to impact the game the most, was having Sean McGuire play instead of starting quarterback Zach Collaros. McGuire, who has done an admirable job as the short-yardage specialist this season, was making his first career CFL start. Prior to Saturday’s game, he had attempted just 10 passes since joining the Bombers in 2019, completing four of them for a grand total of 72 yards.

Against the Alouettes, the 25-year-old finished 11-for-26 passing for 149 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions — a QB efficiency rating of 9.9. By comparison, Montreal’s Trevor Harris, who was making his second start for the Alouettes, went 18-for-25 for 144 passing yards and three touchdowns — a QB rating of 126.1.

Of McGuire’s 149 yards through the air, 72 of them came on a two-play touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter, with the Bombers trailing 24-7. The first was a 42-yard pass to Kenny Lawler, followed by a 30-yard strike to Darvin Adams for the score.

McGuire was then intercepted on the next three drives to close out the game. His first pick, which happened late in the first quarter, set up the first of two touchdowns by Alouettes receiver Eugene Lewis. It also erased all the momentum from a four-yard touchdown run by Brady Oliveira, a score that was set up after Montreal fumbled away the opening kickoff.

The Bombers finished with 217 yards of net offence and just 12 first downs.

“It was a tough game,” McGuire said. “It’s just disappointing.”

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Demski (10) is tackled by Montreal Alouettes' Monshadrik Hunter during the second half. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Nic Demski (10) is tackled by Montreal Alouettes’ Monshadrik Hunter during the second half. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

He added: “Some of the (interceptions) were when I was scrambling, trying to make something happen. I need to take care of the ball better. The last one — same thing. Just trying to force a ball into tight coverage. I’ll learn from it.”

McGuire’s performance was a stark reminder of how important Collaros is to the team. The Bombers still have one final regular season game to go, Saturday against the Stampeders in Calgary.

The Bombers are hoping to get Collaros some playing time next week, and when asked if the performance Saturday has changed their plans, O’Shea said it had not. As for the play of McGuire, the Bombers coach said he believes it will be a good learning experience for the young quarterback.

“The thing to see is ‘Stick with the process.’ I thought we had some success in the fourth quarter, and we still had time and I think he was trying to make some big plays and get the ball downfield a little bit, for his team,” O’Shea said. “He was trying to make those plays to help us come back to win the game. You can’t fault a guy for trying to put that pressure on himself and get the ball downfield and put us in a position to win. I’m sure he’s not happy with the outcome but I think he should be looking at it in a positive light. He got those snaps under his belt, he’ll learn from them, and he’ll be better.”

With the loss, the Bombers fall to 11-2 on the year and snap a nine-game winning streak. The Alouettes improved to 7-6 with the win and remain in contention to finish second in the East Division when they wrap up the regular season at home against the Ottawa Redblacks.

Clearly, the Alouettes had plenty to play for.

Montreal Alouettes' Reggie White Jr., (84) is upended by Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nick Hallett during the second half. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)</p>
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Montreal Alouettes’ Reggie White Jr., (84) is upended by Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Nick Hallett during the second half. (Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press)

They didn’t play like it early on, though, falling behind 6-0 just 1:51 into the game. But they rebounded with the Lewis touchdown before the second quarter and then took over all momentum minutes later with a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that lasted nine minutes and 52 seconds. The series was capped off with another acrobatic catch from Lewis, who now has nine touchdowns on the season, giving the Alouettes a 14-7 lead at halftime.

“We had way too many second-and-shorts, which they were able to convert,” Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said. “That was a major drive and we’ve got to be a little bit tidier. That’s something we needed to be better at.”

Possessing a 17-7 edge through three quarters, Montreal started to pull away in the final frame.

Harris connected with Reggie White for an eight-yard touchdown, making it the first TD the Bombers have surrendered in the fourth quarter all season. Heading into the game, Winnipeg had outscored their opponents 116-6 in the final frame.

“You can’t get hung up on it,” Bombers defensive end Jonathan Kongbo said. “It’s disappointing obviously. It’s good for bragging rights and whatever, but it is what it is.”

The Adams touchdown made the game interesting, before it slipped away thanks to consecutive turnovers. The game was ultimately sealed when David Côté connected on a 12-yard field goal with 1:53 remaining, giving the Alouettes a two-touchdown lead.

It was the first loss for the Blue and Gold since falling to the Toronto Argonauts in Week 3. O’Shea said they’ll go through the film like any other game, though it’s likely this one will be much tougher to digest.

“My gut tells me there’s nothing easy about flushing a loss,” O’Shea said. “The expectation that these guys have is different from the outcome we got. They’ll take that to heart and find ways to prepare even more diligently.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.catwitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

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