Bombers push winning streak to seven but Stamps loom (& 14 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday afternoon by a score of 46-29 to extend their winning streak to seven games. Winnipeg overcame a 29-19 second half deficit to record the win on the strength of three takeaways, stellar play on special teams, and a strong offensive showing in the game’s final twenty minutes.

2. Timothy Flanders was excellent in his first career CFL start, recording 136 yards and a touchdown on just 23 touches in place of the injured Andrew Harris. Some have been quick to suggest that Flanders — not Harris — is the best running back in the Bomber organization, but it’s important to keep some perspective. Flanders has fresh legs at the two-thirds mark of the season, a huge advantage over defenders who have been subjected to the wear and tear of professional football since week one. It was great to see Flanders impress in his debut, but there’s no doubt that Harris will be the starter when he returns to full health.

3. The Bombers were stellar on short yardage versus Toronto, gaining a jaw-dropping 18 yards on four 3rd down short yardage situations. TSN1290’s Darrin Bauming reported that the Bombers made short yardage an area of focus in practice this week — clearly, the hard work paid off.

4. Blue Bomber right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick patented the ‘Hardrick Hop’ in last week’s Banjo Bowl victory. The fun-loving Nebraska product was joined by his fellow offensive linemen this week after Tim Flanders’ fourth quarter touchdown that ultimately sealed the game. Seeing one 300-pounder leap in the crowd after a score is a spectacle in and of itself — seeing a group of big men perform the leap is simply mind-blowing.

5. Speaking of Hardrick, the first-year Bomber had a rough outing opposite Shawn Lemon in the first half of Saturday’s contest before settling down as the game went on. Lemon, who left Winnipeg’s training camp back in 2011, tweeted the following message back in May while still a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. It is presented here without comment.

6. Taylor Loffler has quickly become a fan favourite in Winnipeg, receiving one of the biggest cheers of any player in pre-game introductions. Loffler’s selection in the third round of the 2016 draft is a perfect example of why drafting players based solely on positional need is often ill-advised in the CFL. The Canadian talent pool isn’t a large one — each draft features only a limited number of players who will one day flourish into consistent starters. The Bombers didn’t need a safety on draft day, yet Loffler was selected nineteenth overall after plummeting down the draft board due to a history of knee injuries. Kyle Walters has drafted a lot of talented players over the past three years, but Loffler is quickly becoming his best pick thus far.

7. While drafting players based on positional need rarely works out for the best, it would be spectacular if the Bombers had a marquee receiver fall into their lap with one of their two first round picks next season. Rory Kohlert has dropped three passes over the past two games, catching just one ball for five yards versus Toronto. I suggested last week that Addison Richards might be the better option at field-side wide receiver and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise.

8. Argonaut head coach Scott Milanovich has already forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but I still can’t wrap my mind around his infatuation with former Blue Bomber pivot Drew Willy. Milanovich raved about Willy’s first regular season performance with the Bombers back in 2014 on CJOB’s pre-game show, a 45-21 victory over his Argos. Willy threw four touchdown passes in that game, a win that marked the beginning of an impressive 5-1 start for the Bombers that season. Sadly, Willy went on to record just 23 touchdown passes over his next 28 starts, 18 of which were Bomber losses. I hope Willy finds a way to revitalize his career — I just won’t be surprised if he doesn’t.

9. Speaking of the Willy trade, how great was Dan LeFevour in the first three quarters of Saturday’s contest? LeFevour threw for four touchdowns, demonstrating impressive deep accuracy while consistently finding a way to buy time with his feet. If Ricky Ray is done — and his failing health this year suggests he might be — LeFevour could be the guy heading into next year’s Argonaut training camp.

10. Matt Nichols is now 9-5 as the starter of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers dating back to last year’s Banjo Bowl. He is two victories shy of Drew Willy (11) for quarterback wins on the Bombers’ all-time list. Nichols also improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 8:1 on Saturday, tossing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Clarence Denmark late in the third quarter.

11. Maurice Leggett recorded his league-leading sixth interception of the season in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s victory. That will give Leggett bragging rights over his new teammate T.J. Heath who, just moments before being traded to Winnipeg last week, recorded two interceptions against Hamilton to tie Leggett’s then-league-leading mark of five.

12. Speaking of Heath, I’d expect to see the newcomer start next week’s game versus Calgary at field-side halfback. Bruce Johnson has simply been the victim of too many big plays over the past month to continue earning time in the starting line-up.

13. What would Blue Bomber CEO Wade Miller give for his club to still be in the CFL’s East Division? Now 8-4, Winnipeg is still stuck behind Calgary (10-1-1) and B.C. (8-3) in the CFL’s West Division standings, meaning they aren’t on pace to host a playoff game this season. Meanwhile, the Ticats — who the Bombers have beaten twice this season — have a single-point lead for first in the East despite a mediocre 6-6 record. Eastern teams have lost 13 of the past 15 interdivisional games this season including seven straight contests since Hamilton’s 53-7 pasting of Saskatchewan on August 20. It’s too early to discuss eliminating the CFL’s divisional structure altogether (not that such discussions have ever proven fruitful in the past), but it’s unfortunate that Western teams need to post better records than their Eastern counterparts every year to host playoff games.

14. Weston Dressler proved again on Saturday afternoon that he’s still an elite receiver in the CFL, recording eight receptions on ten targets for 93 yards and drawing yet another long pass interference penalty. Dressler now has 659 receiving yards on the season, good for sixteenth in the CFL despite starting just eight games (one of which he missed almost entirely due to a first quarter concussion). With Ryan Smith and Darvin Adams out for a while yet, I’d still like to see Kyle Walters try to make a trade for Montreal problem child Duron Carter. The Bombers will need another play-making receiver to have any hope of making noise in the playoffs and Carter, despite his warts, could very well be that guy.

15. The Bombers will face their toughest test of the season next week against a white-hot Stampeder team (10-1-1) that is undefeated in their past eleven games. Calgary is 15-1 in their last 16 games at home (playoffs included), including a 36-22 week two victory over the Bombers that saw Drew Willy fail to reach 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter. Barring a stunning turn of events, Winnipeg will have to win in Calgary this November if they are to have any chance at reaching the Grey Cup. A close game — or better yet, a win — in Calgary would do a lot to prove this team is a legitimate Grey Cup contender for the first time in a half-decade. Stay tuned.