Despite all the craziness and fall to third place, Bombers still have chance to salvage season in playoffs
It has so far been the kind of year some people in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization would like to forget, and yet it still has a chance to be the most memorable one in decades.
So much has gone wrong for the Bombers since they jumped out to a 5-0 start to the season and were pegged as early Grey Cup favourites.
Still, they are not exactly massive underdogs in the post-season, despite the fact they finished in third place and will have to go through Calgary and Saskatchewan, on the road, to get to the Grey Cup.
“We had a rough patch later in the season and we had to find our way back,” offensive lineman Stanley Bryant said. “We did that in the last game against Calgary (a 29-28 win on Oct. 25). Every team is at 0-0. It’s playoff time and we’ve got to go out and get a win.”
The Bombers feature a punishing rushing attack, a ball-hawking defence and a fearsome defensive line, but had they two Achilles heels during the season — they allowed far too many passing yards and couldn’t produce anywhere near enough of their own.
At least one of those issues has quite possibly been addressed with the addition of Zach Collaros at quarterback. He brings stability, veteran savvy and a strong arm to the passing game, which should complement the stellar rushing of Andrew Harris.
They have proven they can beat Stampeders (they did it twice this year) and the Roughriders and, if they are at their best, there’s no question they can still get to the Grey Cup.
“It’s all about where you end up and how you finish the season,” Bombers receiver Nic Demski said. “As long as we got into the playoffs, we’re still alive. These next three weeks are gonna be the most valuable weeks so we’ve got to go in there with a dog mentality and finish the job.”
That would be kind of amazing, given all that has gone on in this crazy year. Imagine being a member of the team’s PR staff when reading the timeline of unusual events.
Perhaps it’s best to shield your eyes before looking at this train wreck.
July 15 (4-0 record) — Linebacker Nick Temple released after being accused of misconduct on social media.
July 21 (5-0) — Receiver Chris Matthews is reportedly stabbed at a downtown nightclub.
Aug. 1 (5-2) — Bombers blow 20-point lead and lose 28-27 to last-place Toronto Argonauts.
Aug. 15 (7-2) — Quarterback Matt Nichols goes down with a shoulder injury and is placed on six-game injured list.
Aug. 26 (8-2) — Star running back Andrew Harris suspended for two games after testing positive for a steroid called metandienone.
Aug. 28 (8-2) — Matthews released after catching just 12 passes for 180 yards in six games.
Sept. 21 (9-4) — Harris returns from suspension but Bombers blow 24-point lead and lose 38-37 to Montreal Alouettes.
Sept. 26 (9-4) — Nichols undergoes surgery and is ruled out for the season.
Oct. 5 (9-6) — Bombers lose second straight game, this time to rival Riders, and fall out of first place.
Oct. 9 (9-6) — Quarterback Zach Collaros acquired at the trade deadline after weeks of head coach Mike O’Shea saying team was fine with status quo.
Oct. 19 (10-7) — The Bombers fall to 3-5 under backup quarterback Chris Streveler with a 37-33 loss to the Stampeders that drops Winnipeg into third place.
Oct. 25 (11-7) — Just 16 days after he was acquired, Collaros starts in place of an injured Streveler and leads Bombers to 29-28 victory over Stampeders.
Oct. 30 (11-7) — Harris not nominated for any team awards, with several voters citing his positive drug test as the reason.
Nov. 2 (11-7) — Stampeders win their final game of the season to finish at 12-6, meaning Bombers finish in third place and must play on the road in playoffs.
So that’s where we stand now that November has rolled around and the playoffs are nigh.
Through bad luck, injuries, poor play, stunning collapses, untimely turnovers and off-field turmoil the Bombers have earned themselves a long road to the Grey Cup.
It’s a road they all believe is manageable.
“You get to the playoffs and anything can happen.” Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said. “Everybody in this league knows we’re a good football team. We’ve found a few ways to lose some games during the year but you look at the things we’ve done, the guys we have in this room and how we finished the season, no one in this league is gonna take us lightly.”
Collaros will start in Calgary, just his second game as a Bomber, and he has a chance to be an instant hero if he can do enough to take this team to victory.
Just imagine, after all the hits the Bombers have taken, some of them self-inflicted, Collaros, Harris, star defensive end Willie Jefferson and Co., somehow make it to the Grey Cup.
You wouldn’t be able to make something like that up.
But it’s a delicious possibility.
Bombers have a ‘lot of heart’ that will shine through in playoffs
Nic Demski has no doubt about what makes the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a good playoff team.
“A lot of heart man,” the Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiver said Thursday after his team practised at IG Field in preparation for Sunday’s CFL West Division semifinal against the Stampeders in Calgary.
“I think that’s what it comes down to in the playoffs. It’s all about heart and dedication and that’s what our team is based on. We have a lot of great athletes, we have great systems but we also have a lot of heart and we don’t stop fighting until the last whistle.”