BLUE REVIEW: Faced with adversity, Bombers prove once again why they are top team in CFL

Article content

There was something a little different about Saturday night’s game at IG Field.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

It felt like a game between two teams in the same league.

For the first time in a while, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers faced an opponent that had a real opportunity to win as the Montreal Alouettes came to town and landed a couple of punches that wobbled the knees of the home team.

With most outstanding player candidate and CFL leading rusher William Stanback churning out yards and the Montreal defence holding its own, the Alouettes jumped out to a 21-14 lead early in the second half and looked like a team that just might be able to bring the first-place Bombers down to Earth.

However, the Bombers are the top team in the league for a reason and they showed no panic at all as they methodically came back to tie the game, take the lead and seal it away with another perfect fourth quarter.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

It all added up to a 31-21 win for the Bombers, who are now 11-1 on the season, finished the year at 7-0 at IG Field — their first perfect record at home since 1984 — and are already just one win away from a spot in the Grey Cup for the second straight year.

This was a great game for three quarters, but the Bombers continued to weave their magic in the fourth, outscoring the Alouettes 10-0.

Winnipeg has outscored opponents 116-6 in the fourth quarter this season — that is not a typo — a mindboggling tally that may never be seen again in the history of the CFL.

The Bombers have two regular-season games left — next Saturday afternoon in Montreal and on Nov. 20 in Calgary — before they host the West Final on Dec. 5 and all that remains for this team to accomplish is to stay healthy and maintain some momentum for the playoffs.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

Surely, some key players will be rested over the next two weeks and some backups will get a chance to show what they can do and it’s possible that may mess with the historic nature of this season, but as they proved Saturday against the now 6-6 Alouettes, the Bombers are not going to take any game, or any opponent, lightly.

“We’ve had some close games, but I’m really not worried about our group,” said Bombers quarterback, and MOP candidate, Zach Collaros. “There’s a lot of vets on this team and we’ve all been in a lot of close games, battles, together or elsewhere. We understand what it takes and we’re just happy we came away with a victory, and we’re gonna enjoy it.”

Let’s take a look back at the positives, the negatives and the conclusions we can draw from Saturday’s game.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

THE POSITIVES

— How could you start anywhere other than with the performance of the defence in the fourth quarter? After falling behind 21-14, early in the third, the Bombers allowed Montreal to get a total of four first downs the rest of the way, picked Alouettes quarterback Trevor Harris off twice and allowed the offence to go out and score the final 17 points of the game. Although Montreal scored two offensive touchdowns, the Alouettes finished with 302 yards of offence and only 177 through the air. Stanback did run for 106 yards, but the Bombers clamped down on him in the second half as well. We already mentioned the fact that the Bombers have given up just six points in the fourth quarter this year — an average of 0.5 points per fourth quarter, through 12 games — right?

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— One of the most difficult questions surrounding the Bombers right now is this: Which of their defensive stars should be the team’s candidate for most outstanding defensive player? Defensive end Willie Jefferson? DE Jackson Jeffcoat? Safety Brandon Alexander? Middle linebacker Adam Bighill? It’s a positive to have a problem like that right? Any of them would be a great candidate and one of them should win the league award, given how good this defence has been, but right now my money’s on Bighill, who previously won the award in 2016 (with B.C.) and 2018 (with the Bombers). He had eight tackles and an interception on Saturday and his stat line for the season includes 65 tackles, two quarterback sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Jeffcoat and Jefferson have been incredible as well, combining for 16 sacks, and seven forced fumbles (plus Jefferson has two interceptions and a touchdown), and this vote will likely come down to the final day — the votes need to be submitted by Nov. 14, a day after the Bombers second-last game of the season, which will be played in Montreal next Saturday.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— For my money, quarterback Zach Collaros is the MOP of the CFL this year. He solidified that status on Saturday with another solid performance — 280 passing yards on 21 completions, with two more touchdown passes and no interceptions. Collaros leads the CFL in passing, with 3,112 yards, completion percentage (70.2%), touchdown passes (20), and passing efficiency (111.6). He has thrown just six interceptions. Collaros is now 15-1 as the Bombers starting quarterback, going back to the 2019 season and playoffs, and he’s the team’s single most important player. The defence as a whole is incredible, but Collaros is the player that stirs the drink on offence and plays the most critical position on the field.

— Receiver Kenny Lawler had his best game in a while, hauling in seven passes for 111 yards. Three of his catches came on second down and one went for 44 yards. He has re-taken the league lead for receiving yards at 915 — he’s just two yards ahead of Montreal’s Eugene Lewis — has six touchdown catches and leads the league in 30-plus yard receptions, with nine. All of the Bombers receivers got into the act on Saturday, with Nic Demski hauling in four passes and scoring a touchdown, Drew Wolitarsky grabbing three and getting into the end zone, Rasheed Bailey catching four and Darvin Adams, Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine recording one apiece.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— New kicker Sergio Castillo missed on a 38-yard field-goal try in the second quarter, much to the chagrin of Bombers fans who desperately want to see some consistency in that area. However, he was good from 22, 34 and 47 yards as well and kicked three converts, so there’s plenty of hope that the 2019 CFL all-star will solidify the kicking game for Winnipeg. Before the game, the Bombers had used three different place-kickers for a combined success average of 57.3%, so 75% looks pretty good, no?

— Cornerback DeAundre Alford recorded his fourth interception of the year (tying him for the league lead) and is a lock to be the Bombers nominee for most outstanding rookie. He’ll face a challenge from receiver Kian Schaffer-Baker of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (41 rec 526 yards), but Alford is definitely a candidate for the overall league award.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

THE NEGATIVES

— There were some uncharacteristic mistakes from the Bombers on Saturday, most notably a fumble by running back Brady Oliveira that resulted in a 19-yard scoop-and-score touchdown by defensive end Jamal Davis. The Bombers also were flagged for procedure in the fourth-quarter, wiping out a 48-yard field goal by Castillo, and went offside on second-and-long, giving the Alouettes an opportunity to try for a shorter third-and-three. This Bombers team got where it is by taking care of the football and being the least penalized team in the CFL, so those plays were a little concerning.

— The Alouettes put up 125 rushing yards, proving that they can move the football against the Bombers stifling defence. When it comes down to the playoffs, stopping the run will be paramount, as it’s key to success against the passing game as well. The Bombers will look to improve on that number next week in Montreal, though Stanback is an absolute handful and the Alouettes will be out for payback.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

— This isn’t really a negative, yet, but Bombers fans have yet to truly see what backup quarterback Sean McGuire can do against live bullets in a CFL game. While he leads the league in rushing touchdowns (eight), they’ve all come in short-yardage situations. McGuire tried only one pass on Saturday and didn’t come close to completing it. The Bombers have to get McGuire into action in the next two games — both to preserve the health of Collaros and to get him battle-tested before the playoffs. Expect to see McGuire get significant playing time in Montreal next week or in Calgary on Nov. 20, or perhaps in parts of both games.

THE CONCLUSIONS

This Bombers team is a juggernaut, through and through.

They faced real adversity on Saturday night and came through with flying colours when they needed to, in all phases of the game.

Advertisement

Story continues below

Article content

It would not be a shock to see the Alouettes beat the Bombers next week in Montreal. It’s hard to beat a team two weeks in a row and the Alouettes are the best team the Bombers have faced in well over a month.

Winnipeg could start resting some players next week as well.

Though the Bombers will look to keep their focus on the remaining regular-season games, the only game that matters will be played on Dec. 5, against either the Saskatchewan Roughriders (8-4) or the Calgary Stampeders (6-6).

The Bombers will look to strike a balance between keeping their momentum going and staying healthy in the remaining weeks.

Everyone knows it’s possible an upset will happen in the West Final. The Bombers upset the first-place Riders in the West Final in Regina in 2019 and then crushed the 15-3 Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup game.

The CFL is often about which team gets hottest at the right time. The Riders have had success of late, though they haven’t looked like world beaters, and the Tiger-Cats (7-5), who will host the Grey Cup on Dec. 12, are coming on strong behind quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

The fact that Winnipeg played so well in the face of adversity on Saturday is an indication that they’ll be good and ready to be at their best on Dec. 5.

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

Advertisement

Story continues below

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

View original article here Source