Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Demski (10) is tackled by Montreal Alouettes' Monshadrik Hunter during second half CFL football action in Montreal, Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Attention, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans: if you have been so tempted, please unclench your fists and slowly step away from the panic button.
Look, the easy and natural thing to do here in the wake of the second loss of the season against 11 wins is to overreact. And based on some of the narrative that came alive during Saturday afternoon’s 28-14 loss to the Alouettes in Montreal, a few of the club’s faithful had quickly dropped the pennants and pom-poms and were spitting venom after an admittedly sloppy performance by the visitors.
Yet – and repeating a theme we leaned on in our game recap – let’s face it, what unfolded in Montreal wasn’t entirely surprising, either. Oh sure, the Bombers arrived in Quebec still expecting to keep alive their nine-game win streak with a revamped roster that was minus nine would-be starters in Zach Collaros, Andrew Harris, Stanley Bryant and Pat Neufeld on offence; Jackson Jeffcoat, Steven Richardson, Brandon Alexander, Nick Taylor and Deatrick Nichols on defence, along with ace kick returner Janarion Grant.
But when you lose the turnover ratio badly – the Bombers finished -4 in turning the ball over five times and forcing only one – that’s virtually an impossible hole to crawl out of and still win, especially with close to 40 percent of your starting lineup either injured or watching. Consider this: dating back to 2014 and Mike O’Shea’s first year at the helm of the Bombers, the club is 59-9 when winning the turnover battle. And when they are on the wrong end of that number? Try 6-35. Hello.
So now the approach is the same as it is every week for this team, win or lose – flush it and move on to go 1-0 this week in Calgary in the regular season finale.
“My gut tells me there’s nothing easy about flushing a loss,” O’Shea said after the game. “The expectation that these guys have is different from the outcome we got. They’ll take that to heart and find ways to prepare even more diligently.”
What the roster might look like for this weekend – what with the Bombers locked in to first and the Stamps in third – will be anyone’s guess and a narrative in the days ahead. But, make no mistake, what happened on Saturday in Montreal didn’t negatively affect the Bombers’ collective confidence or their resolve.
“Man, we got a great team with great leaders,” said Bombers defensive end Jonathan Kongbo. “No one is down in the locker room. Nobody’s head is down or people chirping at each other.
“We understand what happened and we know what we have to do to get back to playing the type of football that we play. So, the mood in the locker room is ‘We all have each other’s back.’ We let each other know that we can do better — individually or as a group.”
More on the Bombers loss in Montreal in our weekly edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
SO, LET’S TALK ABOUT SEAN McGUIRE’S FIRST START… filling in for Collaros. The Bombers’ second-year QB finished 11-of-26 for 149 yards with one TD strike to Darvin Adams and four interceptions – three of them coming on the club’s last three possessions. McGuire was obviously despondent afterward saying:
“Some of the (interceptions) were when I was scrambling, trying to make something happen. I need to take care of the ball better. The last one — same thing. Just trying to force a ball into tight coverage. I’ll learn from it. You can see the silver lining in it but this one stings.”
The Bombers struggled to stay on the field against the Alouettes, with eight of their 15 possessions ending without generating a single first down. The rain-soaked conditions didn’t help, nor did having an O-line in front of him that was missing Neufeld and Bryant and lost Drew Richmond early, forcing the club to find in-game replacements at left tackle.
That said, there’s no running from McGuire’s numbers and the fact he forced some throws and short-hopped others. That’s as much about confidence and reps as anything, and the club certainly won’t rush to judgement on their young QB.
“He was trying to make those plays to help us come back to win the game,” said O’Shea of the late interceptions, in particular. “You can’t fault a guy for trying to put that pressure on himself and get the ball downfield and put us in a position to win. I’m sure he’s not happy with the outcome but I think he should be looking at it in a positive light. He got those snaps under his belt, he’ll learn from them, and he’ll be better.”
Some perspective on first starts, courtesy of long-time Winnipeg sportswriter Patti Dawn Swansson, who pointed out that in Dieter Brock’s first start on September 8, 1974 the Bombers lost 24-2 to Edmonton with the QB going 4-of-9 for 58 yards with zero TDs and one interception.
Dieter Brock’s first CFL start as Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB, vs. Edmonton on Sept. 8, 1974, when Brock was known as Ralph and the Elks were known as the Eskimos: 24-2 loss, 7 first downs total, 4/9 passing, 58 yards passing, 0 TDs, 1 pick.
— patti dawn swansson (@madamepattidawn) November 14, 2021
ANOTHER REASONED TAKE ON McGUIRE… this coming from veteran linebacker Adam Bighill, who was asked what he might say to the young pivot about his first start.
“I think he’d like to have a couple of those throws back, that’s all. I’m sure he’s not happy with the outcome but I think he should be looking at it in a positive light,” said Bighill. “He got those snaps under his belt, he’ll learn from them and he’ll be better.
“It’s not a defining moment of who you are and what you’re capable of. These moments are for you to learn from and that’s as simple as it can be, really.”
IT WASN’T ALL BAD FOR THE BOMBERS… with a number of veterans who did dress – like Bighill and right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick – suiting up, but having their workload managed. The Bombers defence limited Montreal to 252 yards net offence, with powerhouse running back William Stanback held to 65 yards on 18 carries, for a 3.6-yard average. Winnipeg registered three sacks – two from Jonathan Kongbo and a third from Ricky Walker.
“I prepare every week to play. I prepare every week like I’m starting. So, to get that opportunity to play this week – I know we had a couple guys banged up – I had to take advantage of it,” said Kongbo, who had the first multiple-sack game of his career.
“Obviously, to get a win, to me that’s what would have mattered the most. As far as my performance today it was ‘whatever.’ I could definitely do a lot better, but I would have definitely loved to get a win. Overall, obviously it wasn’t the result we were all hoping for, but I like the way our guys battled, we really battled to the last whistle. The outcome was negative, but there were a lot of positives when you look at the game.”
A RECEIVER RACE RIGHT TO THE FINISH… is unfolding before our eyes as Kenny Lawler of the Bombers and Montreal’s Eugene Lewis battle for the right to lead the CFL in yardage.
Lewis had two of Montreal’s three touchdowns on Saturday and finished with six catches for 51 yards. But Lawler’s spectacular 42-yard reception in the fourth quarter – one play before McGuire hit Adams for the TD – helped him boost his totals to 58 yards on three receptions.
With one game remaining for both clubs, Lawler has 973 yards on 60 receptions and for six touchdowns, while Lewis is 62-964-9.