Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros, left, passes over B.C. Lions' Adam Konar during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, on Friday, October 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
It was after midnight on the left coast – past 2 a.m. in Winnipeg – and the Blue Bombers’ charter flight home was just about to go wheels up following a dominant win over the B.C. Lions in Vancouver.
Some players were already sound asleep. Others were still reliving some of the many highlights from the club’s seventh win in eight tries and a 7-1 record that has them atop the West Division and the rest of the Canadian Football League. In that moment, head coach Mike O’Shea stood up from his seat at the front of the plane and grabbed the phone for the plane’s intercom system.
“Fellas, listen up,” he began. “Big win tonight. Get your treatment tomorrow and be on time. Don’t show up to the first practice with something bothering you and having not told the training staff. Take care of your bodies, take care of yourselves and your teammates. Remind your teammates already asleep to do the same thing. Great job. And let’s keep this thing rolling.”
OK, so look, O’Shea admittedly will never proclaim to be the type to deliver a Knute Rockne-eque ‘Win one for the Gipper’ speech. And he’d just chuckle at all the melodramatics behind the memorable ‘Inch by Inch’ scene featuring Al Pacino in ‘Any Given Sunday.’
Still, whatever the Bombers coach is doing – and, of course he’d be quick to turn the spotlight around to the coaching staff and anyone in the building – is clearly working. This is a good football team with good players. It’s well coached and the scouting staff consistently finds new talent that can help seamlessly fill the gaps led by departures.
And the coach – a Canadian Football Hall of Famer himself – consistently hammers home the same ‘take care of yourself/take care of your teammates’ message. It’s a basic blueprint in theory, but much less simple to put into practice. In any case, it has the Bombers at 7-1 right now and on an 11-1 run dating back to the Grey Cup championship run in 2019.
Critical to that success is the ‘culture’ aspect of the room, a notion yours truly used to cynically roll my eyes at back in my newspaper days, but has come to appreciate from this different perch. It was evident when the Bombers returned to work after their bye last Monday, with a series of spirited and focused practices that were driven by a crew of veterans who pushed themselves in the days leading up to Friday’s win, understanding there could be no easing off the gas pedal. And it’s evident every day as players and coaches regularly come in early and leave late.
“It serves us well in that they all understand that there’s room for improvement,” said O’Shea after the game Friday. “They’ll be critical when they watch the film, they’ll look at plays. Don’t get me wrong, they’ll enjoy tonight and they’ll enjoy watching the film and have fun doing it. But they’ll also know and take account, take stock of what they need to do better. You can trust that with these guys.
“I do think that having this veteran group is extremely important. They know what it takes. Every single week, every single practice they understand that. It’s just really fun to be around and it’s fun to watch.”
More on the Blue Bombers win Friday night in B.C. in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
FURTHER TO WHAT COACH O’SHEA SAID ABOVE… Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat was asked if winning as they have done regularly validates what the club does day in day out.
“it’s always fun to win,” said Jeffcoat. “That’s what my coaches used to say in college – the fun is in winning. I mean, that’s what you play the game for: you play to win. We’re all competitors, so it’s always fun to win.
“But if you’re not learning anything from a win – what you did wrong and improving – the wins will stop. So, as a team we’ve still got to keep looking back and seeing what we’re doing wrong and seeing what we need to correct so that we can be playing at our best. There’s more that we can do.”
THE DEFENCE SERVED UP ANOTHER DANDY… but Friday night’s win was a three-phase result, as the offence and special teams also did their thing.
Much of the numbers were pointed out in our game story but some context is necessary to hammer home how impressive the offensive performance was against the Lions. The Bombers cranked out 508 yards in next offence, its first 500-yard-plus effort since a 503 total against Calgary on October 26, 2018 and the highest total since cranking out 588 against Montreal on June 22, 2018. Asked afterward about the game called by offensive coordinator Buck Pierce, O’Shea offered this:
“I thought he had a good plan going in – I know he was very excited and made sure the guys were on point. He does a good job every week, he really does. He’s got a lot of energy.
“When I sit in the meetings when the offence starts I’m pretty fired up when I leave that meeting and it’s not rah-rah, it’s just that he’s confident in the players and their ability to execute and he’s fired up for them. They recognize that.”
THE TRIGGER MAN NATURALLY DESERVES… some slaps on the back, and Bomber QB Zach Collaros was superb Friday in completing 28-of-33 for 417 yards and two TDs – one to Kenny Lawler, the other to Rasheed Bailey – and no interceptions.
It was the third 400-yard passing game in Collaros’ career, second to a 439-yard effort he had in 2016 while in Hamilton. And this from CFL stats guru Steve Daniel – Collaros’ work marked the 33rd time in Bombers history a QB eclipsed the 400-yard mark, with his 417 total ranking 21st all-time.
he’s on X-Games mode pic.twitter.com/cASxUBi9zY
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) October 2, 2021
It was also the first 400-yard passing game by a Bomber QB since Joey Elliott had 406 yards passing in an August game in 2012 and the most by a Winnipeg pivot since Ryan Dinwiddie threw for 450 yards in a game in 2008.
“I thought Buck called a great game,” Collaros said. “With regards to spreading the ball around, the guys made plays when the ball came their way. That’s the mentality of that (receivers) group. I’ve said this several times: they’re very selfless, they don’t care who gets the touchdowns and who gets all the yards as long as we win the game. Hats off to all those guys. They played great and made plays for me.”
THE MAIN TARGET WAS KENNY LAWLER… who was sensational in Friday’s win. Lawler finished the night with 12 catches for 205 yards and a TD.
— CFL (@CFL) October 2, 2021
It was the first 200-yard performance by a Bombers receiver since Adarius Bowman had 10 catches for 213 yards on October 12, 2009. Worth noting here is Lawler now has 45 receptions for 703 yards and four touchdowns. He led the Bombers in receiving in 2019 with 43 catches, 637 yards and four TDs in 16 games.
“He’s a stud,” said Collaros of Lawler. “It just so happened, especially a couple of times when we put him on the field (side, wide side) the coverage dictated for him to be the first read and he got open.
“He had a lot of balls come his way tonight and he made unbelievable plays like he always does with the ball in the air. He’s a big-time player. He knows that I think that. He’s going to continue to get better as we all are because we’re going to keep grinding.”
“He’s certainly grown in the system. He comes back with a year under his belt and time, with COVID, to spend more time in the playbook and digest the system. You move him around a little bit more and he’s been making some big plays. He’s got sticky hands and he’s certainly a good playmaker. That ball in the end zone, was almost like slow-motion in my head… the way he played that was phenomenal.”
AND, FINALLY… The Bombers are on a five-game win streak, are 11-1 under Collaros, are 4-0 at home, 5-0 against the West.
“It’s always fun to beat a good opponent like that. B.C.’s a good team,” said Jeffcoat. “So, you come in their home playing well, it’s always going to be a fun time. We had some fun out there.”