CFL Pass

Sitting pretty: Blue Bombers thrive in opening quarter of CFL season

TORONTO – Start fast.

It’s the goal of every team in virtually every sport at any level, but for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, getting out of the gate quickly was a common refrain during training camp.

Outside of the obvious and knowing the lay of the land in the West Division, where the Calgary Stampeders are the gold standard and have made hosting the division final commonplace.

The Blue Bombers fully understood that in order to enhance their chances of returning to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2011, finishing first would enhance their chances.

During the past two seasons, there had been too many times where the Blue Bombers were lamenting lost opportunities, especially early in the campaign.

That’s not the case this season, as the Blue Bombers are 5-1.

Friday’s 23-15 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats represented the poorest showing by the Blue Bombers in 2019, but it’s not necessarily a sign that things are about to go sideways.

“It’s about how you handle it and how you answer the bell and come back and play better next week,” said Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols, who had three interceptions on a night he was 29 of 48 for 261 yards through the air with one touchdown. “The first third of the year has been great. We’re sitting in the position that we want to be in. We really could only be one game better than where we are, so obviously we’re happy with where we are positioning-wise, but we’re also not happy with how (Friday) went.

“We know there are two teams behind us that are 4-2, so we better get back on the winning side of things.”

Sure, the Blue Bombers gave up majors on each of the first two drives – one of which was the result of a costly turnover that gave the Tiger-Cats a short field – but for as poorly as they played, this game still went right down to the wire.

And it would have surprised almost no one if the Blue Bombers had found some fourth quarter magic and orchestrated a drive that sent the game to overtime.

But it was not to be and to be perfectly clear, the Blue Bombers got what they deserved.

The defence got tough after getting shredded on the opening series and there was almost nothing they could have done when the Tiger-Cats returned the interception to the one-yard line.

After that, they buckled down and held the Tiger-Cats to three field goals.

Of course, facing an inexperienced backup made that job a bit easier, but credit where credit is due – the Blue Bombers defence did its part to keep the team in the contest.

Nichols was the first to admit he didn’t play well enough for his team to win and he was right.

Two of his picks came on overthrows where the ball slipped out of Nichols’ hand, while the third was into tight coverage on a deep ball.

The Blue Bombers inability to string drives together was a key factor in the defeat, as were the special teams woes.

There were no kicking issues from Justin Medlock, but the Blue Bombers fumbled three times in the return game, though one from Kenny Walker was erased by a no-yards call.

It would be a mistake to say the Blue Bombers were over-confident or not prepared.

They faced a determined team in the Tiger-Cats and simply got beat.

That’s football, but how the Blue Bombers react on Thursday against the Toronto Argonauts could go a long way to determining which way the middle third of the season goes.

“I’ve been on a lot of really good football teams and sometimes a loss like this isn’t the worst thing to bring things into realization, that you’re not just going to go out and beat everyone by 30 points,” said Nichols. “This will be a great learning experience for everyone, including myself, that we need to play better football to win football games.”

The Blue Bombers remain in top spot in the West, but five of the next six games are against divisional opponents – including what looks like it will be a first-place showdown with the Stampeders on Aug. 8 at IG Field.

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea downplayed the suggestion that this loss provided an opportunity for his team to reset or might have provided a bit of a wake-up call.

“I wouldn’t use those words, I don’t know what I would call it,” said O’Shea. “We lost against a very good football team and we’ll move on from here. If we spend too much time dwelling on this loss or thinking about what we’ve done…I don’t break the season into thirds anyway. We’re wasting time (if they do that).”

Time to bond, regroup

Blue Bombers staying out East on extended road trip

TORONTO – Mike O’Shea isn’t one to waste time, so when the CFL schedule maker gave the Winnipeg Blue Bombers consecutive road games in Ontario, the head coach and general manager Kyle Walters figured it was a great time for some team bonding.

So instead of flying home on a short week, the Blue Bombers opted to head to Guelph for a few days of rest, recovery and practice as they prepare to face the Toronto Argonauts on Thursday at BMO Field.

“That’s what these extended road trips are for, it’s a chance for these guys to spend a lot of time together and make good decisions on where we’re going from here,” said O’Shea. “They get a chance to stick around with each other, eat more together and hunker down. Should they choose to do so, they’ve got a lot more time on their hands. They don’t have all of the outside distractions or things that they have to worry about. They can get in the film room together and hang out. And they’ll have some fun too.”

That opportunity to spend additional time together away from the field can be valuable, especially with the dog days of summer quickly approaching.

“We’ll get our film session over with and then everyone will be hanging out together,” said Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols. “It’s a good time.”

After a frustrating loss, the Blue Bombers view this short week as a prime chance to get back on track.

“The good thing about this is that it’s a short turnaround and we have an opportunity to better ourselves,” said Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris.

The road ahead

What’s on tap for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Aug. 1 at Toronto Argonauts

Aug. 8 vs Calgary Stampeders

Aug. 15 vs B.C. Lions

Aug. 23 at Edmonton Eskimos

Sept. 1 at Saskatchewan Roughriders

Sept. 7 vs Saskatchewan Roughriders