Bombers extend winning streak in Montreal (& 14 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Montreal Alouettes at Molson Stadium on Friday night by a final score of 32-18. It was the Bombers’ fourth-straight victory, marking their longest winning streak in exactly five years. Winnipeg, now 5-4, are over .500 at the midway point of the season for just the third time since 2008.

2. There was nothing flashy about Matt Nichols’ performance in Montreal, but that will sit just fine with Blue Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea. Nichols has now committed just one turnover in his four starts this season and has a better interception percentage (0.9%) than Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell, Hamilton’s Zach Collaros, Edmonton’s Mike Reilly, and B.C.’s Jonathon Jennings. It would have been nice to see Nichols push the ball further downfield — his longest completion went for just 23 yards on a wheel route to Andrew Harris — but he played a mistake-free game against a tough Alouette defence.

3. The Bomber offensive line deserves a lot of credit for the fourth straight game. Two weeks after pitching a shutout versus Toronto, Winnipeg’s hogs allowed just one sack against an excellent Montreal front-seven. The Bombers have now allowed just six sacks in Nichols’ four starts after allowing 16 in Drew Willy’s five.

4. Penalties and a lack of point off turnovers were the only two reasons why Friday night’s game was close. Winnipeg committed fifteen penalties in Montreal — almost double their season average — for a whopping 151 yards. And despite starting their first three drives in Montreal territory — twice as a result of a turnover — the Bombers came away with just nine points in the first quarter. That level of execution might be enough to beat the Alouettes, but the Bomber offence will need to make the most of the club’s takeaways to top tougher competition down the road this season.

5. Andrew Harris committed his first two fumbles as a Blue Bomber on Friday night, both of which halted the Bombers’ momentum at key points in the game. While the fumbles were frustrating for Bomber fans, Harris has established himself as an elite CFL player and responded appropriately. With just six minutes remaining and the score undecided, Harris rushed for 34 yards off four carries, sealing the game with a spectacular 19-yard touchdown run. Running backs need to be at their best in late-game situations when the defence knows the run is coming and that’s precisely what Harris was late in Friday’s game — his best.

6. Speaking of turnovers, Winnipeg has now forced eighteen turnovers in their last three games. As of week nine, four teams had recorded fewer takeaways all season (Saskatchewan, 11; Ottawa, 12; B.C., 15; Edmonton, 17). That’s spectacular.

7. I can’t help but question Mike O’Shea’s decision-making before halftime. O’Shea used his second challenge of the contest to review a questionable pass interference non-call that, after proving unsuccessful, exhausted his challenges with 32 minutes remaining in the game. O’Shea then opted to punt from Montreal’s 44 yard-line on the following play instead of allowing a red-hot Justin Medlock to attempt a 51-yard field goal. It’s possible that O’Shea didn’t want to risk Stefan Logan breaking a big return if the kick was missed — Brandon Banks scorched the Bombers for a TD off a Medlock miss back in week three — but I would have let Medlock try the kick. The guy’s made his last twenty field goals — you’ve got to trust him to knock that one through.

8. Maurice Leggett recorded his third pick-six of the season on Friday night when he jumped a pass intended for Nik Lewis in the second quarter. The third-year Bomber extended his league lead with his fifth interception of the season and, with three touchdown receptions (kind of, anyway), is now tied with Darvin Adams and Clarence Denmark for the team lead this season.

9. Speaking of Leggett’s interception, I will never cease to be amazing at the inconsistency of Kevin Glenn. Glenn recorded a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in Ottawa last week, completing 25 of 30 passes for 382 yards and five touchdowns. The sixteen-year veteran followed up that performance by tossing four interceptions versus Winnipeg, posting a quarterback rating of just 61.6. Glenn will one day become a Canadian Football Hall of Famer, but I’m not sure he won’t be the most mediocre quarterback ever to receive that honour.

10. Taylor Loffler’s first quarter sideline hit on Duron Carter revealed some intriguing insight into the inner workings of the Alouettes. Bear Woods leapt off the bench immediately after Carter took the late hit, a normal response given the nature and location of the hit. What surprised me about Woods’ reaction, though, was that he didn’t approach Loffler like most players would in that situation. Instead, Woods walked by Loffler to grab Carter around the waist, pulling him away from the scrum. Clearly, Woods suspected Carter would draw an unnecessary roughness penalty in retaliation and didn’t want his hot-headed teammate to cost his team fifteen yards. Ironically, 13-year veteran Kyries Hebert drew a roughness penalty just seconds later.

11. Speaking of Woods, the fifth-year middle linebacker has become one of my favorite players in the CFL. The Troy product has a phenomenal motor, demonstrates strong leadership, and plays a tremendously physical game. If I’m Jim Popp (or whoever manages the Alouettes next year), I look to build around Woods as my defensive leader moving forward. The current leadership core of Chip Cox, John Bowman, and Kyries Hebert looked awfully rotten on Friday night.

12. Things change quickly in the CFL, but rookie Taylor Loffler is playing like the best safety in the league right now. The 2016 third round pick has 22 tackles, a forced fumble, and two interceptions through four starts this season, all Winnipeg victories. Loffler has yet to be beaten deep this season and has consistently provided excellent run support. The going rate for starting national safeties is $175,000 right now in the CFL — considering the Bombers have the UBC product under contract through 2018 at less than half that annual value, Kyle Walters should be doing cartwheels in his office.

13. The Bombers had gone 22 games without scoring thirty or more points prior to their 30-26 victory in Edmonton on July 28. They’ve now scored thirty-plus points in four straight games (all wins).

14. Derek Jones recorded his second blocked punt of the season in the first quarter. Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 CFL draft, Jones has blossomed into one of the league’s most underrated special teamers. The CFL record for most blocked kicks in a season is five, set by Edmonton’s James Zachery in 1986. While Zachery’s record may be out of reach — five blocks in a season is off the charts — Jones’ two in nine games is special.

15. The Bombers will now enjoy an eight-day break before next Sunday’s Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium. The Riders are terrible, but records rarely matter when the Bombers and Riders meet in early September. Taylor Field will be sold out for the final Labour Day game in the venue’s history and Rider Nation will have the home side fired up. And while the Bombers may be above .500 at the midway point of the season for just the third time in nine years, Winnipeg can’t afford to drop either of its upcoming games against Saskatchewan. With no guarantee of a crossover this year, Winnipeg will likely need to finish ahead of either the Lions (6-3) or Eskimos (5-4) to earn a playoff spot this year and both teams are hot. Stay tuned.

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