1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Edmonton Eskimos by a final score of 40-26 on Friday night at Investors Group Field. Edmonton’s victory gave them the season series versus Winnipeg, bringing them within a game of the third place Bombers in the CFL’s West Division. The loss, Winnipeg’s second in as many weeks, dropped the Bombers’ all-time regular season record at Investors Group Field to 10-25.
2. The difference in Friday’s contest was ultimately the play of the Eskimos’ boundary receivers. Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker are easily the best receiving duo in the league and can take over games when given the opportunity to do so. With a limited pass rush and a number of soft zone looks from the secondary, Richie Hall’s Blue Bomber defence allowed them to do just that. Bowman and Walker combined for sixteen receptions, 219 receiving yards, and two touchdowns, good for almost 75 percent of the yardage registered by the Esks’ receiving corps. The Bombers made mistakes in all three facets of the game, but beating Edmonton starts with limiting Bowman and Walker. The Bombers failed to do that.
3. For the fourth time this season — yes, the fourth time this season — rookie defensive back Kevin Fogg had a punt return touchdown called back due to penalty. While the first three touchdowns were negated due to infractions committed by American rookies (defensive end Shayon Green, linebacker Kyle Knox, and linebacker Nick Temple, who has since been released), this week’s penalty was called on veteran Canadian special teamer Jesse Briggs. The penalty was a blatant block from behind that any special teamer — much less a veteran of 50 CFL contests — had to know was likely to draw a flag. Like Green, Knox, and Temple before him, Briggs owes Fogg an expensive dinner.
4. Speaking of officiating, Tim Kroeker’s crew was abysmal on Friday night. Several unnecessary delays killed the momentum of a game that was otherwise smooth, exciting, and entertaining. I wrote last week about how I am no longer in support of the CFL’s challenge policy, but challenges were only part of the problem on Friday. If an officiating crew can’t sort out a simple penalty in thirty seconds or less, the CFL must find one that can.
5. With Johnny Adams now in Hamilton, Ryan Smith has to be the most disappointing player on the 2016 edition of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Smith has now suited up for seven games in blue and gold and recorded just 32 receptions for 323 yards and one touchdown. His 10.1 yard per reception average is almost seven yards shy of the 16.8 yard average he posted with Saskatchewan a year ago, indicating that he is not playing like the deep threat the Bombers hoped he would be when he was added in free agency last February. Smith finished last of Winnipeg’s five starting receivers with just 28 receiving yards on Friday. That’s simply unacceptable.
6. Speaking of Blue Bomber receivers, when is Darvin Adams going to ready to return from his broken collarbone? This receiving corps is desperate for some size, speed, and big-play ability. They need Adams back in the worst way. Now.
7. Matt Nichols had another excellent game on Friday night, completing 26 of 41 passes for 330 yards, two touchdowns, and a last-minute interception that came on an ill-fated Hail Mary toss. Nichols was also the victim of at least three drops, meaning his numbers could have been even better with improved play from his receiving corps. The one thing I don’t understand about Nichols’ game is his hesitancy to take off with the football when the pocket breaks down. There were multiple times against the Eskimos when Nichols tried to fit passes into tight windows on second down instead of simply taking off to get the first down himself. Nichols is no Cam Newton, but he can move the chains on the ground when he needs to. Using his legs more would add another dimension to Paul LaPolice’s offence.
8. The attendance for Friday’s game at Investors Group Field was just 24,706, a bad number for a team that’s been playing some good football as of late. The Jets playing a preseason game a little over ten kilometres away at the MTS Centre surely hurt attendance, but I still expected ticket sales to be better. Too bad.
9. Kenzel Doe is one of the most ineffective return men I’ve seen in the CFL in quite some time. With Troy Stoudermire currently on their practice roster, why wouldn’t the Eskimos dress the former Bomber to see if he could do some damage against his old club in a key game? Strange decision.
10. Bud Grant, the legendary coach of both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Minnesota Vikings, became the seventh individual inducted to the Blue Bomber Ring of Honour at halftime of Friday’s game. I was unable to get to Investors Group Field in time for Bud Grant’s pre-game autograph signing from 5:30-6:30, so I threw a Hail Mary on twitter hoping someone might come through.
Can't make it to IGF by 6:30, so if any loyal readers/listeners want to get me Bud Grant's autograph they'd forever be my favorite!
— John Hodge (@JohnDHodge) September 30, 2016
To my amazement, I was contacted two hours later by a loyal reader named Nils Refvik who had a signed hat for me. I was blown away by Nils’ generosity and would like to thank him publicly here for his tremendous act of kindness. I’m not a big autograph guy, but Bud Grant is a true living legend — an all-time great regardless of country, league or sport. Owning a piece of merchandise that bears his signature is symbolic of the tremendous contributions he made to the Winnipeg Football Club, the province of Manitoba, and the sport of football in general. Thanks, Nils!
11. The Bombers (8-6) are now just one game ahead of the Eskimos (7-7) for third place in the West Division. With Edmonton clinching the season series on Friday, Winnipeg will have to maintain at least a one-game lead over the green and gold to continue holding the third and final playoff spot in the West. The Bombers’ attention now turns to B.C. (8-4), the club Winnipeg will face back-to-back over the next two weeks. Two wins would put the Bombers in an excellent position to finish second in the Division and host the West Semi-Final. Two straight losses likely puts the Bombers in fourth place facing a crossover scenario. Stay tuned.