Denmark, Fogg help Bombers extend winning streak (& 15 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat the Toronto Argonauts at BMO Field on Friday night by a final score of 34-17. It was the Bombers’ third-straight win — their first such streak since July 11, 2014 — and got them back to .500 after a rocky 1-4 start to the season. It’s not long ago that the hottest topic of discussion in Winnipeg was the future of head coach Mike O’Shea. Three weeks later, the Bombers are heading into their bye week just one point out of first place in the West Division. How’s that for a turnaround?

2. The best performance on Friday night came by way of receiver Clarence Denmark. After a solid showing last week (seven receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown), Denmark exploded for 195 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions in Toronto. Denmark is already just 454 yards shy of the total it took him eighteen games to accrue in 2015 (718), a stunning figure that raises a number of questions. For one, where was this production when Denmark was making big bucks last season? And why wasn’t Denmark good enough to stick with Saskatchewan? Surely the answer isn’t that they ran out of roster space. In any case, congratulations to Denmark on revitalizing his career in blue and gold.

3. It’s a testament to the brilliance of Denmark that his performance overshadowed the play of rookie Kevin Fogg. Fogg had two interceptions, a sack, a fumble recovery, and a 35-yard punt return versus the Argos, the latest in a series of stellar games for the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie front-runner. Fogg’s game wasn’t without mistakes — he was caught flat-footed on Diontae Spencer’s first quarter 62-yard touchdown grab — but he’s proving to be a special talent. Fogg also told CJOB 680 after the game that he will be staying in Winnipeg over the bye to focus on football, a rare and impressive decision from a first-year player.

4. Some will be quick to point out that the Bombers have won their past two games over back-up quarterbacks, but let’s give Jeremiah Masoli and Logan Kilgore some credit: the pair is a combined 4-1 when not facing Winnipeg this season. All you can do is beat the team in front of you, and the Bombers have done just that despite a number of injuries to key players.

5. Speaking of absent Bomber starters, how good is this team going to be after the break? Weston Dressler, Ryan Smith, Johnny Adams, and Chris Randle could all be back for the club’s next game in Montreal. Jermarcus Hardrick, Julian Posey, and Macho Harris may not be far behind, either.

6. The Bombers didn’t allow a sack on Friday night, their first sack-free game of the season. Matt Nichols has now been sacked just five times in three starts, just half the rate (1.66 per game) at which Drew Willy was sacked in his five starts (3.2 per game). The offensive line is only ever one part of protecting the quarterback — sometimes a pivot has to protect himself.

7. Speaking of the Blue Bomber offensive line, West Texas A&M’s Manase Foketi made his first career start on Friday night at right tackle. I didn’t notice him once. That’s a compliment.

8. Taylor Loffler continued his stellar play at safety versus Toronto, recording nine tackles (eight on defence and one on special teams) and a forced fumble. Loffler missed a tackle on Wallace Miles early in the third quarter that led to a 23-yard gain, the first missed tackle I’ve noticed from the rookie this season. Loffler responded by stripping Kenny Shaw just two plays later. That type of resilience from a rookie player is exceptionally rare.

9. Many around the league raved about Toronto’s “big three” rookie receivers last season (Kevin Elliott, Tori Gurley, and Vidal Hazelton). What some may not realize is that Toronto also acquired Diontae Spencer and Kenny Shaw last year, both of whom could easily eclipse 1,000 yards this season. Finding one impact rookie receiver is tough enough in the CFL, but five in one year? That’s unheard of. Credit to Toronto’s outstanding scouting department.

10. The Bombers now have a league-leading 27 takeaways in eight games this season. The team in second place? Toronto (16).

11. Bomber strong-side linebacker Moe Leggett now has twice as many pick-sixes this season (2) as the Saskatchewan Roughriders have interceptions (1).

12. Matt Nichols has now failed to reach 250 passing yards in each of the last two games. That lack of production won’t matter so long as the Bombers can continue to dominate the turnover battle (they are now plus-13 on the year) and run the ball effectively (Andrew Harris had his second 100-yard performance of the Bombers’ three-game winning streak). Nichols has recorded just one turnover this season, a second quarter interception to Argonaut safety Thomas Gordon. To Nichols’ credit it was clear from TSN’s reverse angle that the pick came as a result of a poor route from first-year man Kris Adams. Aside from Adams’ mistake, Nichols has played clean football.

13. Speaking of Nichols, Mike O’Shea kept his starting pivot in a lopsided game until the final whistle for the second straight week. Back-up running back Pascal Lochard got three carries late — why not give Dominique Davis some reps?

14. Andrew Harris continues to show why he is such a special talent. By my count, eight (yes, eight) Toronto defenders got a hand on him on his third quarter four-yard touchdown run. That’s ridiculous.

15. I published a piece on Friday morning about the CFL’s failure to properly discipline the Saskatchewan Roughriders for their flagrant violations of the league’s roster rules. You can check it out here.

16. The Bombers’ next game is on August 26th at Molson Stadium versus the Montreal Alouettes. That contest will be the first of a trio of very winnable games following the club’s bye week (at Montreal, at Saskatchewan, vs. Saskatchewan) that could launch the Bombers into serious contention for first place in the West. And while Bomber fans would be wise not to get ahead of themselves — this is the CFL, after all, where anything can happen — a six-game winning streak would be the club’s longest since the nine-game win streak it recorded between the 2002 and 2003 seasons.