Winnipeg Blue Bombers Drew Wolitarsky (82) celebrates his touchdown with Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler (17) during second quarter CFL action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, July 5, 2019. (CFL PHOTO - Patrick Doyle)
It was late on a sticky Friday night in Ottawa and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were in full-on scramble mode to pack up and head out to the airport for a charter flight home.
The club had just finished putting the finishing touches on a 29-14 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS that has left them as the Canadian Football League’s only remaining unbeaten when, amid all the chaos that goes with a quick exit, defensive end Willie Jefferson was cornered momentarily for his thoughts.
“That,” he began, glancing around the room at his defensive teammates, “was a good performance by a great defence.”
And that just might be the perfect summation of the Bombers third win in as many games early this season.
Yes, there are any number of reasons as to why the Bombers are 3-0 today, but the unit which has left the biggest imprint on those victories has been the defence.
And on Friday night, Jefferson – the massive defensive end and the club’s marquee free-agent signing this offseason – served up a dominant performance in which he was at his disruptive-force best.
Officially, he was credited with one sack for eight yards and one pass knockdown. But he consistently shot out of a cannon from the edge, occasionally dropped into coverage all as part of what was another stifling Bombers defensive performance.
The Bombers not only limited Ottawa to just 236 net yards of offence, they forced four turnovers and have now defended 34 consecutive opponent possessions without giving up a touchdown.
Winnipeg’s defensive dozen has not yielded an offensive score since the third quarter of the season-opening win over B.C., and the two games without a TD against is a first dating back to 2005.
“We’re just trying to do our jobs to the best of our abilities,” said Jefferson. “We work hard during the week, put in a lot of time during film, put in a lot of time talking offences and what they do. We came in here ready to perform and we were totally locked in from the beginning.”
Interestingly, while Friday’s defensive performance looked very similar to the work the club did at the end of last year after it had morphed into a CFL power, there have been a ton of changes to the unit that took the field in last year’s West Final.
Without Adam Bighill – who missed the game, but is expected back for next week’s home date against the Toronto Argonauts – the Bombers defence against Ottawa featured six different starters compared to the West Final last November in Jefferson, cornerbacks Winston Rose and Chandler Fenner, linebackers Jesse Briggs and Kyrie Wilson and Jeff Hecht at safety.
Nine defensive players in total who dressed for the West Final are gone in Chris Randle, Kevin Fogg, Taylor Loffler, Brandin Bryant, Tristan Okpalaugo, Ian Wild, Brendan Morgan, Frederic Plesius and Abu Conteh.
All of this is to say the Bombers defence has continued to be dominant despite a significant makeover. And it leads many in the room to believe this could even get better as the season unfolds.
“We’re building a tight family,” said Jefferson. “Like I’ve been saying, it’s next man up and the next man has got to be ready. There are a lot of guys in new spots, but we demand of ourselves that we talk a lot and communicate with each other so everybody knows what they’re supposed to do.
“Everybody wants to be accountable for themselves and do their best for the next man.”
He was also caught by TSN cameras with a quote that should be converted to a T-shirt:
More on the Bombers win in Ottawa in our weekly collection of post-game notes and quotes we call UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
THE MOST SIGNIFICANT SUBPLOT TO FRIDAY’S WIN… was the shot quarterback Matt Nichols took that forced him to leave what was his best game of the season.
Nichols explained what happened in our game recap Friday night, and it seems he should be good to go against the Argos, but his status will obviously be a huge story when the club returns to the practice field on Monday.
“We’ve got a lot of depth. I’m proud of our guys who came into a tough place against a tough team, a team that was 2-0 and clawed and scratched and found a way to win,” said Nichols after the game and after stating he was feeling fine.
“It was a tough battle all the way through. That’s a good football team. For us, I felt like we played better this week than we did last week and it’s just continue to try and build on that and be even better. We felt like there was lots of stuff we could have done better out there today.”
THE BOMBERS GOT SOME SOLID WORK FROM… Chris Streveler both in relief of Nichols in the second and in his running the short-yardage package prior to that.
Streveler threw for one TD – a short two-yarder to Drew Wolitarsky – and had two QB sneaks for scores while being picked off on a ball that was tipped. He finished the night 6-of-8 for 42 yards while rushing 11 times for 44 more.
“I’ve played in every game since I got here and I’ve got a good comfy feel with all the guys in this locker room, especially the guys on the offensive side,” said Streveler.
Somewhat lost was a drive Streveler and the Bombers attack authored late in the game. Leading 29-14 with 8:19 remaining in the game, the Bombers were able to take five minutes and 38 seconds off the clock with a nine-play drive that only covered 24 yards, but featured two second-down conversions and an Ottawa penalty.
That work meant that when Ottawa got the ball back there was just 2:41 remaining.
“That was huge,” said Streveler. “It was making enough plays to stay on the field. We took the clock down to almost three minutes left… it really didn’t feel like we moved the ball a lot, but we were able to just make enough plays and continue staying on the field. They had the illegal contact (penalty) on the screen and we were able to convert and just stay on the field. As an offence, that’s what it’s about: running plays and staying on the field and getting first downs.
“The offensive line did a great job, Andrew (Harris) was running hard and the receivers were catching the ball well and getting up field and making plays when we had to.”
INTERESTING SCENE POST-GAME OUTSIDE THE BOMBERS LOCKER ROOM… when Justin Medlock spoke to the media. The veteran kicker had an up-and-down game, missing two field goals, but then hustling on a punt to provide a turning point play when he last touched the ball before it went out of bounds to give the Bombers possession on Ottawa’s four-yard line and led to a Streveler TD.
Clearly not happy with his placekicking performance, Medlock did speak about the critical play on the punt.
“I just saw the ball, saw the returner didn’t want to catch the ball and so I just kept running. That’s my job,” said Medlock with a shrug. “The ball’s on the ground, go get it. That was a big point in the game and I was glad I could come through for that.”
But as Medlock downplayed the moment with a few ‘that’s my job’ answers, head coach Mike O’Shea walked behind the scrum and yelled: ‘Hell yeah, Meddy!’
Earlier in his media session, O’Shea had referred to the play as ‘massive.’
“You guys ask me about turning points a lot and I don’t usually have one,” he said, “but that one was massive and our team responded.”
KA-BOOM!… Bombers fans have heard a lot over the last few years about ‘explosion’ plays – those big-yard gains against the defence that can be killers. Consider then, how the offence is giving new meaning to the term: in the last two weeks, the team has had 75-yard and 41-yard TDs to Lucky Whitehead in the win over Edmonton and then Demski’s 82-yarder on the Bombers second offensive play Friday night.
“That’s what we like to do as an offence,” said Demski. “We like to get explosive plays, we like to take shots on teams when they are available and when you execute them and get them done it feels pretty good.”
The Bombers were also 3-for-4 in the red zone and are now 9-for-11 for the entire season after going 2-for-2 against Edmonton and 4-for-5 in the win over B.C.
“That’s all our O-line, man,” Demski said. “We play physical. I mean, we try to play physical every down, but when we get into that red zone we know what time it is. Kudos to the O-line, kudos to Strev, kudos to Andrew, kudos to all the receivers blocking… that’s a goal of ours: we want to finish drives with sixes, not threes. We made that a goal and we did a good job of doing that.”
THE BOMBERS 3-0 START NOW INCLUDES… two wins over West opponents and two road victories. The club has only opened a season 3-0 three times dating back to 1988 – in 2014, 2003 and now this year.
The ’14 team – with O’Shea in his first year as Bombers coach – started 5-1 before stumbling to finish 7-11. The ’03 team, led by Dave Ritchie, went to 4-0, lost three straight, then five in a row before ultimately finishing 11-7.
A NUMBER OF FANS WERE ASKING ABOUT O’SHEA’S CHALLENGE… late in the third quarter when Charles Nelson caught a ball, but had it stripped and then returned for Ottawa’s only TD.
All turnovers are reviewed by the league, but O’Shea challenged anyway. His rationale?
“I don’t know how much I can get into it, but I’ll say this: they’re going to rule it if it’s clear and obvious with full speed with what they have to look at,” said O’Shea, who serves on the rules committee in the offseason. “So, based on my conversations with the CFL and the officiating crew, they might have one (camera angle). In essence, throwing a challenge flag or calling a time out gives them more opportunity to possibly see more angles.
“I do not know how many angles they get to see. We’re not privy to that, I don’t know, so they could just work at one at full speed and move on. It’s a little bit of a risk, but I also understand what I’ve been told and sometimes they only have one angle. If I can buy them one more time it might turn their opinion. And it’s a big play, so I’m going to try and give them as much time as possible to look at as many angles as possible.”
Ultimately, the replay official upheld the referee’s decision.
— CFL Football Operations (@CFLFootballOps) July 6, 2019
AND, FINALLY, A TIP OF THE CHAPEAU TO…
- Chad Rempel, who played in his 200th career game
- Mike Miller, who tied a CFL record with seven special teams tackles (all seven coming against former teammate Ryan Lankford)
- Matt Nichols, who threw for his 100th career TD – 81 as a Bomber
- Nic Demski, who recorded the longest TD of his career – 82 yards, on a pass from Nichols – and his first 100-yard receiving game.