July 3, 2023

Upon Further Review | WPG 17 MTL 3

Weeks, months, and years from now it will be remembered as simply another two-touchdown win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during what is already a dominant era in franchise history.

After all, Winnipeg’s 17-3 victory over the Montreal Alouettes Saturday night at McGill Stadium certainly had a workmanlike feel to it. What should also be reinforced is the importance of the return to the norm after last week’s uncharacteristic blowout loss to the B.C. Lions.

Yet, what might be lost as this season rolls along is some of the context surrounding a game which included a 100-minute lightning delay – a storyline which would suggest there’s more to portraying the win as just a ‘ho-hum the Bombers are back to doing their thing again.’

Of course, let’s also not make this bigger than what it is – a Week 4 road win against a squad many were predicting to struggle before the season started – but so much of what was on display Saturday night pointed to this team’s true strengths.

It is experienced enough to not only shake off the loss to the Lions immediately, but also resilient in handling the difficulties of a long delay in enemy territory. Just as critical was how the Blue Bombers took the approach of simply spitting on both hands and getting back to chopping wood like they always do in what was a dominant performance at the line of scrimmage.

“Everybody in here was ready to go, no matter what time they were going to tell us to be out there,” said safety Brandon Alexander inside the cramped, steamy visitor’s dressing room at McGill after the game. “We stayed locked in and ready. We also had a great week of practice and preparation for this one. We were able to flush what happened last week and just focus on the details for this one.

“I think we did a tremendous job just taking it one day at a time, reading our keys and shooting our targets. We’ve got a lot of plays still to correct, but the guys were flying around making the plays they were supposed to make.”

More on the Blue Bombers win Saturday, which improved the club to 3-1, in this week’s UPON FURTHER REVIEW

ALEXANDER’S PICK WAS THE GAME’S TURNING POINT… as the Alouettes looked poised to bite into the visitor’s 10-0 advantage after a 69-yard Cody Fajardo pass to Kaion Julien-Grant set Montreal up at Winnipeg’s 14-yard line.

Yet on the very next play, Alexander gobbled up Fajardo’s attempt at the two-yard line and then raced 62 yards down the sidelines into Montreal territory, completing flipping the field.

A half dozen plays later, Zach Collaros connected with Dalton Schoen for a score and the lead had grown to 17-zip.

“I should have scored on that play because I had tremendous blocking by my guys, so that’s on me,” Alexander said. “I appreciate the offence having my back and then putting that in the end zone, because I should have scored on that for sure.

“And that big play before that… that was a big ‘my fault’, as well.  I should have been there for Holmie (Evan Holm) on the post, and I wasn’t there. That’s definitely my fault. I’m glad I was able to make it up on the next one. To be honest with you, that interception shouldn’t have even needed to happen because I should have been back there on that post play.”

That was one of four turnovers forced by the Blue Bombers against the Als including three fumbles – forced by Deatrick Nichols, Willie Jefferson, and Abu Daramy-Swaray, with one recovered by Cam Lawson and two of them recovered by Demerio Houston.

“They were unbelievable all night long,” said Collaros of the Blue Bombers defence. “Willie and Jackson (Jeffcoat) and Jake (Thomas) and that whole crew inside were making it difficult on the quarterback and on the back end, what an unbelievable turn of events there for Brandon Alexander to step in front of that with the pump and slant right in front of him. It flipped the field, and we went down and scored a touchdown on that one. To get out there and be resilient after a long pass to make that play… hat’s off to him and those guys.”


SATURDAY’S PERFORMANCE WAS ARGUABLY… the best of Lawson’s CFL career so far as the Queen’s product had two tackles, two sacks and the fumble recovery in his first game of the season.

The former Alouette draft pick in 2021 – acquired in a draft day trade last year by the Blue Bombers – was nicked up in training camp and missed the first three games of this season.

“That was awesome, that was so much fun,” Lawson said afterward. “It’s always tough sitting on the sidelines or being back home when the team is away, and you can’t be with the boys.

“You just get so antsy wanting to play and even antsy watching them practice. That’s why it was so much fun to get back out there again. During the delay I just went through a lot of internal meditation to keep my focus. I was just trying to stay in the moment.”

The Blue Bombers’ defensive front was superb in Saturday’s win. But they were also talking about missed sacks and tackles afterward that could have made the performance even more impressive.

“We missed a lot. We’ll probably get ripped up on that in the film room,” he said with a grin. “There’s always stuff to work on. We’ll clean it up.”

One more on the D-line – Jeffcoat’s impact was immediate, even if he wasn’t popping out on the stats sheet.

“Having Jackson back was just having another key piece on that defensive line to help us be more physical up front,” said Jefferson. “Jackson brings a specific skillset to the defensive line with his pass rush and his run-stopping ability on first down. And then just having him out there with his experience and talk and communicate was making it hard for the offence.”

ONE OF THE RECURRING THEMES THAT CAME UP POST GAME… was the club’s resilience. It wasn’t just about bouncing back from last week but handling the delay and the mistakes in-game – Winnipeg also turned the ball over four times in the win. One of those came early by Brady Oliveira, but as was mentioned post-game, he certainly recovered by rushing 20 times for 120 yards while adding 19 more yards on two receptions.

“They’re experienced enough where they’re not carrying it as a weight into the next play,” said head coach Mike O’Shea of handling the turnovers. “They’re moving on very quickly. And Brady is still a young player. He’s just able to move on. He knows his teammates love him and they’ve got his back.

“He doesn’t want that to happen. It’s really interesting, it’s one of those plays where he’s stumbling, and he makes a great athletic play to put his hand down and spin… I never played the position but athletically how he recovered to keep up and keep running, that’s when he lost the ball. But it’s a great athletic play to do that. It’s unfortunate, but they don’t waste a lot of time on the negative, which is really cool to watch.”

FYI: Drew Wolitarsky’s TD to open the scoring was his third of the season – surpassing his totals over the last two seasons. His career high for TDs is five, set in 2018. He gave the ball to his parents, who had travelled from California to take in the game… RB/SB Greg McCrae made an instant impact in his first game of the season, rushing four times for 49 yards and having two receptions for 10 yards. He left the game at halftime due to an undisclosed injury, with an update likely coming on Tuesday when the team is back on the practice field… Sergio Castillo crushed a 48-yard field goal to run his streak of consecutive kicks to 18 dating back to September of last year when he was in Edmonton… Adam Bighill joined the team in Montreal after missing the practice week and registered one tackle, tying him with former teammate Solomon Elimimian for sixth place on the CFL’s all-time list with 833.

AND FINALLY… there’s no concrete way to measure how each team handled the weather delay, but there was a certain ‘been there, done that’ approach from the Blue Bombers.

“It’s interesting the dynamic in the locker room,” said O’Shea. “You’re on the road anyway, but it seems like you’ve got a bunch of guys sitting around in cars taking a two-hour road trip. They’re getting delayed, but for me observing them it’s like they’re getting two hours to hang out in close quarters with guys that they are sitting beside now and shooting the breeze. There are guys doing their own thing, but it’s pretty cool. They handled it very, very well.

“We have a very experienced team and a lot of the guys have been through something like this. So, to hear a guy like Yosh (Jermarcus Hardrick) anytime there was another delay he was just, ‘Perfect. This is perfect.’ And then the young guys get to hear that and now they think, ‘What should I think? I should think it’s perfect.’ So, they’re being told how we’re going to handle this, which is important. A lot of guys have been through a bunch of these delays before – I think we’ve had three or four now in our time.

“(Experience) is a big one and, once again, they did a great job of handling it.

Told later of the back slap from O’Shea, Hardrick grinned.

“Man, I’m so Mike O’Shea-made,” he said. “We went through so many delays over the years. When I first got here in ’16 all I can remember O’Shea saying during those delays was, ‘This is perfect.’ So anytime we had a delay I just kept saying that: ‘It’s perfect.’

“We’ve got a lot of stuff to fix, but how we handled everything, well, it was perfect.”