Man, do Blue ever need Zach

MONTREAL — To suggest the level of execution – or lack thereof — by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Saturday wasn’t close to what we’ve become accustomed to seeing this season would be putting it lightly.

It was also no surprise that with several starters sitting out of the road matinee things weren’t necessarily going to go to plan. While a dip in performance was to be expected, the Bombers were hardly in the fight, eventually falling 28-14 to the Montreal Alouettes in a rain-drenched Percival Molson Stadium.

If that assessment seems harsh, consider that putting forth a valiant effort and winning the game was the goal head coach Mike O’Shea had for his troops. O’Shea echoed after the game his belief that no matter who is in the lineup his club should perform to the high expectations that have been placed on them all season. That certainly fell short this weekend.

Clearly, big picture, the result isn’t overly concerning. The Bombers dropped to 11-2 with the loss, snapping a nine-game win streak dating back to Week 4. They’re weeks removed from locking up the West Division, so life remains good for the undisputed best team in the CFL.

But because O’Shea said he plans to treat the review of this one the same as any game, regardless of who was in or out of the lineup, it’d be a disservice not to follow suit.

With that in mind, here’s the latest edition of 5 takeaways.

1. Of all the roster changes that occurred, including the Bombers resting nine starters, the toughest day belonged to quarterback Sean McGuire. After joining the Bombers in 2019 and performing admirably all this season as the short-yardage specialist, McGuire finally got his first CFL start.

To be fair, conditions weren’t ideal. It was pouring rain for most of the day and McGuire was playing behind an offensive line missing Stanley Bryant and Patrick Neufeld, as well as Jermarcus Hardrick for the final two quarters. He did, though, have all five regular starters lined up at receiver.

While everything wasn’t perfect, neither was McGuire — far from it.

The 25-year-old has been heralded as someone worthy of being more than a serviceable backup, but after Saturday’s performance it’ll be difficult to defend that argument. McGuire finished 11-for-26 passing for 149 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. He had another pick, but the play was reversed, only to then throw an interception on the next play.

McGuire is supposed to have a strong arm, but he underthrew his receivers on multiple occasions and on his biggest play — a 42-yard strike downfield to Kenny Lawler — Lawler was required to make a highlight reel catch on a 50-50 ball. The next play was a 30-yard touchdown to Darvin Adams, capping off a two-play, 72-yard drive that accounted for nearly half of McGuire’s production through the air.

It’s clear the coaching staff and his teammates aren’t about to judge McGuire for one poor performance. And perhaps we shouldn’t either.

But with only one start in two seasons, how much more opportunity will he get to prove he can be relied on to win games?

2. The greatest lesson out of McGuire’s performance was further confirmation that No. 1 quarterback Zach Collaros is the most important element to the Bombers winning back-to-back Grey Cups. Without him, the Bombers will be hard pressed to reach that goal.

The plan for next week’s regular-season finale against the Stampeders in Calgary is to get Collaros and the team’s other stars that sat out against the Alouettes some playing time before the West final on Dec. 5. After the loss to Montreal, O’Shea confirmed they are going ahead with this plan.

That needs to be strongly reconsidered, at least when it comes to Collaros. With the Saskatchewan Roughriders locking up second in the West with a victory over the Edmonton Elks Saturday night, Calgary is locked in at third and will have nothing to play for against Winnipeg.

Check that; in fact, their sole purpose should be to get to Collaros as often as possible, understanding that he is the biggest hurdle to getting through to the Grey Cup.

With that in mind, does playing half a game really matter? Or, better yet, is it worth the risk?

Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press</p>
<p>Als receiver Eugene Lewis turned Bombers DB Winston Rose inside out a few times Saturday.</p>
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Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

Als receiver Eugene Lewis turned Bombers DB Winston Rose inside out a few times Saturday.

3. The Bombers didn’t wait long to insert Winston Rose into the lineup in Week 14, after returning to Winnipeg following a stint in the NFL.

With just one week of practice, Rose was able to mostly shutdown Eugene Lewis, save for a couple plays, including one that was originally ruled offensive pass interference but was reversed after the Alouettes challenged. One week later, Lewis turned Rose inside-out, ending the game with a pair of touchdowns with Rose on man-coverage.

To be fair, the plays Lewis made on the touchdowns were exceptional, even if they weren’t completely impossible to defend. But even Rose took to social media to address his down performance.

“I’m better than that,” he wrote on Twitter. “Watch film & learn from it. I have to do better, and I will.”

I have no doubt Rose will improve in the coming weeks. But with how well DeAundre Alford was playing boundary corner this season, I wonder if maybe Rose might be better suited on the field side. It’s a question for better football minds, but Saturday’s performance, despite three regulars in the secondary sidelined, wasn’t hard to single out.

4. There was some good in all the bad, including a couple performances worth noting.

Kenny Lawler caught three passes for 58 yards, which led not only the Bombers but all receivers in the game. That brings him to 973 yards, just 27 short of the 1,000-yard mark. That’s also nine yards better than Lewis, who trails Lawler for the CFL’s leader in receiving yards.

Also, with defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat out, Jonathan Kongbo received a larger assignment than he’s used to, and the 25-year-old delivered. He entered the game with just one sack but ended it with three, using his speed and strength to take down Trevor Harris twice behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a good player for the Bombers and the Canadian should not only factor into the team’s playoff push, but their plans beyond this season as well.

5) Even with a two-touchdown victory, I’m not all that convinced the Alouettes are a team to be worried about come playoffs.

They looked sloppy in the early stages Saturday, beyond fumbling the opening kickoff that led to Winnipeg’s first touchdown. Montreal held a 7-6 lead after the first quarter and were up by only a score, 14-7, at halftime – against a depleted Bombers team.

When McGuire dialled up that two-play touchdown drive, cutting Montreal’s lead to 24-14 with 10:44 left in the fourth quarter, you got the feeling this one was just one bad play by the hosts from the game titling in favour of Winnipeg. Had McGuire not been intercepted on his final three drives after that, it might have even happened.

At 7-6, Montreal is tied with Hamilton for second in the East, with the Tiger-Cats holding the tiebreaker. That means if they hope to host the East semi-final, the Alouettes will need to beat the Ottawa Redblacks and Hamilton will have to fall to a Saskatchewan club that will likely rest several of their starters.

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

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