Time for Bombers to show what they are made of with Stampeders coming to town
Adversity, and a fair bit of it, has finally arrived for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and now they must show what they are truly made of.
After starting the CFL season 5-0 — the third best opening in club history — the Bombers have lost two straight games, including one in which they blew a 20-0 lead against a Toronto team that had not previously won a game this season.
“Reviewing the film you can see that there’s a few lack-of-focus things that changed the details of how we operate,” Bombers middle linebacker Adam Bighill said.
“Little details always matter.
“You hope we learn from those things going forward into a lot of western games. You’d rather learn now than later, but we have to come out and prove this week that we’ve put this stuff behind us.”
This happened to the Bombers at around this time last year as well.
They were 5-3 and starting to look like real contenders in the west when they suddenly went on a four-game losing streak that left them in danger of missing the playoffs. They rebounded and made it to the West final, but that losing streak cost them any chance of finishing in first place, and in the end, the Calgary Stampeders took advantage of home field to push through to the Grey Cup.
After losing in Hamilton and Toronto, the Bombers must now face the 5-2 Stampeders Thursday night at IG Field in a first-place showdown.
A win should convince a few ankle-sprained fans to jump back on the bandwagon, but a loss will have many more leaping off the edge.
“Each team has to face its adversity,” receiver Drew Wolitarsky said. “We’ve been humbled and we’ve learned and now it’s time to accept what happened and go out and do better.”
The Bombers are supposed to be the best team in the West this year. They are the team with the continuity in the coaching staff, at quarterback, at running back, on defence, while their western opponents — Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatchewan and B.C. — all suffered massive upheaval.
And yet, if the Bombers lose this game to fall to 5-3, they’ll be heading into the last half of August with games against the Lions (1-6), Eskimos (4-3) and back-to-back against Saskatchewan (4-3). How different could things look by the time they hit the bye week after the Sept. 8 Banjo Bowl?
“Ah man, I’m more kind of looking at 10 minutes ahead of time,” the laid-back Wolitarsky said. “It’s a long season and you can’t get burned out. Just keep it right now, in the present.”
Of course, there’s an argument to be made that adversity is a good thing. Everything was going right for the Bombers in those first five games of the season but not so much in the last two games.
“If you’re not facing adversity then it’s not fun, it’s not tough — what’s the point?” safety Jeff Hecht said.
“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be so fun. If you’re not facing adversity, there’s no way to improve your skills.”
The Bombers have received their wakeup call.
They now know their passing game is a weak spot, their pass defence too.
The offensive line has had some holes exposed and quarterback Matt Nichols has struggled when under pressure.
Still, the Bombers believe they have plenty of tools to beat the defending Grey Cup-champion Stampeders as long as they don’t beat themselves.
“Our missed assignments last week (were a problem)” Hecht said. “We had some busts and busts is not a good word around here. We need to clean up our stuff.
“Sometimes coming to the routine stuff … I don’t know what it is … maybe we lose focus or get a little lackadaisical sometimes. Or maybe the offence gives you a reason to be confused and just our fundamental, basic reads, maybe we’re over-thinking them.”
The Stampeders have put together a 5-2 record despite playing without 2018 CFL most outstanding player Bo Levi Mitchell for the last six games. He’s back practising but it will be Nick Arbuckle under centre on Thursday night.
It doesn’t seem to matter. The Stamps always have a great defence and special teams and have been making things happen on offence.
They’ve faced more adversity than usual this year, but somehow they always fight through and the Bombers need to do the same to prove they are a similarly elite-calibre team.
A win on Thursday night will give them first place, for now, and that’s it. A loss won’t be the end of the world, but it will lead to much hand-wringing amongst the Bombers faithful, who just might have been daring to dream about an end to this 28-year Grey Cup drought.
Either way, there will surely be more adversity down the road.
“I feel like I’m always facing adversity, Nichols said. “As a quarterback you just take lumps as they come and continue to stick to the process. This is no different for us as a team. We just need to get right back on track and play well this week.”
THE SEASON SO FAR
Game Result YdsF YdsA
at B.C. W33-23 354 328
vs. Edm W28-21 283 445
at Ott W29-14 453 258
vs. Tor W48-21 428 453
vs. Ott W31-1 449 205
at Ham L23-15 334 235
at Tor L28-27 350 440