Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros (8) passes a ball to wide receiver Rasheed Bailey (88) during first half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Saturday, September 16, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
First the good news: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter their bye week at 10-4 and atop the Canadian Football League’s West Division. Most importantly, they need not rely on any help on any combination of wins from other teams or acts of God to control how their 2023 story ends.
So, there’s that.
And now the bad news: having dropped two of their last three – including last Saturday’s sloppy 29-23 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the annual Hall of Fame Game – some concerns that had been occasionally glossed over have certainly resurfaced again.
“We just ain’t consistent,” said receiver Rasheed Bailey. “We blow up one week and then we come back the next week and… you saw it. I don’t want to simply say we just weren’t good enough, but we just didn’t execute enough. We didn’t play our best ball.
“We all just need to self-reflect, take this week to get away from all of this, refocus and get back to the drawing board. I think we all need to get away from it for a bit. Watch some football, spend some time with your family and then get back to what we do and find a way to execute. It’s going to be good for us to have a week off.”
There’s truth in that, no doubt.
Two factors to consider in the wake of Saturday’s loss: Dating to last season, the Blue Bombers are now 1-4 on games preceding bye weeks, although there should be an asterisk accompanying one of those losses – a defeat in B.C. near the end of last year when the team had clinched first in the West and opted to rest some key starters.
The other losses included a 20-17 OT setback vs. Montreal at home last year, the loss to Hamilton in the same Hall of Fame Game last September and last weekend’s disappointing showing.
“It’s just a coincidence,” said defensive end Willie Jefferson. “We came in with a great game plan and the defence executed it better in the second half. It came down to just a few plays in the second half. We’ve got to be better as a team.”
Also worth noting, and especially so as we press ahead: The Blue Bombers are 12-1 in games after a bye since 2017.
“I hadn’t thought about that too, too much in that regard,” said veteran defensive tackle Jake Thomas about losing last year’s game in Hamilton under similar circumstances – big Banjo Bowl win followed by a trip to Steeltown before a bye week.
“Hamilton is tougher place to play, and they’ve got one of the louder fan bases in the league. They’re a good team and have been for a long time. It’s just that this year they’ve been bit by the injury bug. If you watch the film, they’re physical and they’ve got talent. It seems now that they’re getting healthy at the right time.
“This last month or two you want to be firing on all cylinders when you’re heading into the postseason. It’s not that we’re already looking ahead to that. It’s just been frustrating how a lot of times this year we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. We’ve been a really good team in this league for a while and we always feel like we’re always in the game, but it’s a much better feeling when you play the full 60 and don’t have to chase 20 points.”
More on the Blue Bombers sloppy loss in Hamilton in this week’s Upon Further Review…
THREE NUMBERS THAT JUMP OUT… after a second look at the stats package, available here.
1 – The Ticats scored on their first four possessions with two TDs and two FGs and went 10-of-12 on second down conversions. Hamilton QB Taylor Powell was 11-of-14 for 148 yards and a TD in the first half.
The Ticats opened up the second half with a TD on their first possession but in their next six possessions before the end of the game drive that ended in a kneel down, they had four punts, an interception in the end zone by Evan Holm and a forced fumble by Kyrie Wilson that was recovered by Brandon Alexander.
That said, Powell finished 20 of 26 for 236 yards and rushed four times for 23 yards.
2 – In a game decided by six points, the two misses by Sergio Castillo were critical. The first came on a convert attempt following a Zach Collaros-to-Nic Demski TD that was then returned 126 yards for two points by Tyreik McAllister that turned what should have been a 10-7 advantage for Hamilton into a 12-6 Ticat lead.
And the second, a long 48-yard field attempt in the third quarter that would have cut into a 22-16 Ticat lead was then followed by a seven-play 67-yard TD drive by Hamilton to give them a 29-16 advantage.
3 – Collaros had two TDs to three interceptions on Saturday. Over the last three games his TD-to-interception differential is still 13:7.
Worth noting: Collaros leads the league with 3,480 yards passing, in TD passes with 29 and in the QB efficiency rating at 115.0.
His next TD pass will give him 30 in back-to-back seasons – he had 37 a year ago – and only three other QBs in franchise history have accomplished that feat: Jack Jacobs with 33 in 1951 and 34 a year later; Matt Dunigan with 36 in 1993 and 31 in ’94; Khari Jones with 31 in 2000, 30 in 2001 and a team record 46 in 2002).
FYI… An update to a story we did last week: Nic Demski is now at 931 yards receiving this year and with 69 more would become the first Canadian Blue Bombers receiver since Gerald Wilcox in 1995 to hit the 1,000-yard mark.
Dalton Schoen pulled in eight passes for 110 yards in Hamilton and leads the CFL in receiving with 1,035 yards. Chew on these numbers: in just 32 CFL games Schoen has 130 receptions for 2,476 yards and 26 TDs. Incredible.
Belated Happy Birthday to Blue Bomber Hall of Famer Nick Miller, who turned 92 last Friday. Miller, FYI, was inducted into the club’s shrine in 1996.
THE ‘O’ TRAIN KEEPS CHUGGING… Brady Oliveira had a lighter workload in Hamilton, rushing nine times for 46 yards, but still leads the CFL with 1,190 yards. That’s already a career high and still has him within range of surpassing the career-best 1,390 yards Andrew Harris had in 2018.
Don’t forget, after the bye Harris makes his first return to Winnipeg since leaving the club in free agency last year.
THE LAST WORD:
“There’s been multiple games this year where we come out and we’re the ones getting punched in the mouth first. We’ve got to find a way to punch them in the mouth consistently and if we do that, we’ll be all right. We’ve got stay in it. This will linger for a day or two, but we can’t let it simmer. We can’t take it back, so we’ve got to get back to work.” – safety Brandon Alexander.