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July 13, 2019

Upon Further Review | TOR 21 WPG 48

It was a thorough and complete beat down that began with a roundhouse to the temple right from the opening bell.

Still, it wasn’t without flaws.

And so if we’ve come to learn anything about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the past three-plus years in the franchise turnaround – and especially with the 2019 squad – it’s this:

When this crew returns to work, Friday’s 48-21 victory over the Toronto Argonauts will already be fading in the rearview mirror. The back slaps, fist-pounds and high-fives that came in the immediate aftermath of the club’s fourth straight win will be replaced by that singular and now-cliché focus of just going ‘1-0 this week.’

That dull-as-dirt approach may be boring, but with the team 4-0 to open a season for the first time since 2003, no one would dare argue with the tactic.

“We’re thankful we got the win,” began Bombers receiver Darvin Adams in the locker room post-game, “but we know we’ve got to go in and do more work.

“If we would have beaten them 100-0 we still would have found something to come in and work on next week. It’s never a done deal. If we don’t have any room for improvement, then we’re complacent. We’ve always got room for improvement. All the guys in here think like that.”

That was an almost universal take from the Bombers amid the post-game noise that always comes after a win. The 27-point victory was lopsided – especially a first half that saw the club build a 37-6 lead – but the second half, especially the third quarter, was sloppy. And, just for the record, it was the Bombers pointing out those flaws, not the inquisitors with the microphones, notebooks and cameras in hand.

“What does that say about all of us? It says we have a locker room full of professionals and veterans,” began cornerback Chandler Fenner. “Even though we won the game nobody is feeling over-joyed by the way we won. We’ve got guys playing at a high level and coaches that hold us to a high standard and we’ve got to continue to move that way to continue to win games.

“As the defence we never want to relax and it was something that was spoken about on the sidelines in the third quarter, that we need to tighten up. No matter who is on the other side of the line we want to play a certain brand of football and at certain points of the game we weren’t playing our style of football. We have to get back to that… there were some good series in there where you can say, ‘OK, that’s Winnipeg football.’

“We just need more of that.”

More on the Bombers fourth straight win to open the 2019 season in our weekly post-game collection of notes and quotes we call UPON FURTHER REVIEW…

LET’S GIVE THE 4-0 START SOME HISTORICAL CONTEXT because the Bombers have only busted out of the gates this fast seven times in the franchise’s long history.

  • The 2003 Bombers went 4-0, then lost three straight, followed by five wins in a row before ultimately finishing 11-7 and second in the West and then losing in the semi-final to Saskatchewan.
  • The 1987 Bombers lost their fifth game after a 4-0 start, but finished first in the East at 12-6 before being upset in the division final by Toronto.
  • In 1965, the Bombers opened 4-0, then dropped four straight and ultimately finished 11-5 to finish second in the West before falling 22-16 to Hamilton in the Grey Cup, dubbed the ‘Wind Bowl.’
  • The 1961 Bombers started with four wins, dropped two straight, and then won 12 of their last 13 – including an overtime win over Hamilton in the Grey Cup that featured a spectacular TD run in extra time by Ken Ploen.
  • In 1947, the Bombers played only eight regular season games, but opened 4-0, finished 5-3 and then fell to Toronto in the Grey Cup.
  • And in 1939, the Bombers opened 8-0 – with four wins over the Calgary Bronks and two each against the Regina Roughriders and Edmonton Eskimos – en route to a 10-2 record before winning the Grey Cup with an 8-7 win over the Ottawa Rough Riders.

 

MATT NICHOLS THREW FOR THREE MORE TDS on Friday night, boosting his TD total to 10 against just one interception. Nichols has attempted only 98 passes through four games and (not including Saturday’s CFL games) has the highest QB-efficiency record among starters with more than one start at 126.0.

Of his 10 TD passes, four of them are of significant distance – 67 and 82 yards to Nic Demski, 75 and 41 yards to Lucky Whitehead, and 38 yards to Darvin Adams.

“Honestly, a lot of it’s coming with just working with these guys and even me just playing more football and being able to see things a little bit differently and stay on some of my downfield reads a little bit longer,” said Nichols. “It’s just a combination of the evolution of the offence, me playing more, just more reps and getting on the same page with some of these guys.m It’s just showing up on game day, the work we put in all week.”

“Matt, like always, he’s a dead-eye,” added Adams. “Everybody says he’s a ‘game manager’ or whatever. They can call him whatever they want, our record is 4-0, even though we don’t worry about that — we’re only worried about going 1-0 each week.

“At the end of the day, the only thing we care about what somebody says about us is we’re winning. That’s the only thing we care about.”

QB1 WAS ALSO QUICK TO OFFER PRAISE to Demski who, with 82 and 67-yard TDs in the last two games, is flashing more of his big-play capabilities.

“I remember in 2015 him taking a punt return against us in the Labour Day game (when Demski was in Saskatchewan) in my first game here as a Bomber,” said Nichols. “That guy is a ball player and given the opportunity can be a big-time player. His role is evolving as we get a feel for ways to utilize him. He’s a premier receiver in this league, there’s no doubt.”

“He’s fast, he’s a great athlete… we all know that,” added Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “We’re able to put him in all these different spots now and give him touches in different ways. We’re very comfortable with that and it’s because Nic has turned into a good pro. That’s not saying he wasn’t that before, it’s just his development now is such that he’s a good professional. You want to put the ball in his hands because he’s so athletic and you trust him to know everything he needs to know about all the plays.”

INTERESTING THING ABOUT THE NICHOLS-TO-DEMSKI… 67-yard TD Friday night: the end result wasn’t the original play call.

“Honestly, it was not the way it was supposed to be drawn up,” Demski explained. “But Matt saw the exact same thing I saw and it worked out well. I saw the two high safeties split out, so I just took the middle of the field and Matt threw a great ball and let me run under it and the rest was up to me to out-run the D.

“Next thing you know I was in the end zone.”

ANOTHER WEEK, ANOTHER CLIMB UP THE LADDER FOR ANDREW HARRIS… who eclipsed the 8,000-yards rushing mark against the Argos. Harris had 14 carries for 116 yards on Friday and now has 8,036 in his career – just eight yards shy of moving past Tracy Ham (8,043) into 11th place on the CFL’s all-time rushing list. A few more good games and Harris would move past Dave Thelen (8,463) into the 10th spot on the league’s all-time rushers.

“It’s been a good journey,” said Harris. “I’m definitely not done yet, but there have been a lot of great O-linemen and fullbacks and receivers and quarterbacks I’ve played with that helped me get to that point. It’s definitely something I’m going to take a lot of pride in and thinking about when I first started in this league, I never thought I would be at this point now.

“I’m definitely proud of it. Let’s just keep going.”

Added O’Shea:

“He’s pretty damn good. I enjoy coming to work every single day knowing he’s going to be in the building. He’s fiery. And after all that – and I’m not sure if he knew what his totals were or not – he’s not satisfied and judging by his mood and attitude on the bench after, he wanted to make sure the team wasn’t satisfied, either.”

AND, FINALLY the last word goes to Lucky Whitehead, who had the first word in Friday’s win by taking back the opening kickoff 104 yards for a TD.

Asked if he had ever taken an opening kickoff back for a score before, Whitehead – appropriately wearing a ‘Flash’ T-shirt – grinned:

“I did… 2016 pre-season. Cowboys-L.A. Rams (Whitehead was with the Cowboys then), 101 yards in L.A’s first game back in the Coliseum. That was fun. Those type of runs, as a player, it’s just great to get that boost of energy and get the butterflies out.”