Bombers take big step towards hosting West Semi-Final (& 11 other thoughts)

1. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the B.C. Lions by a final score of 37-35 at Investors Group Field on Saturday afternoon. The win was not only huge for the Bombers’ hopes of hosting the West Semi-Final, but also saw the team reach nine wins on the season, ensuring the club’s first .500-plus season since 2011. The victory also improved the Bombers’ home record to 4-4 on the season, meaning a victory over Ottawa on October 29 would give Winnipeg its first-ever single-season winning record at Investors Group Field.

2. For the umpteenth time this season, the aftermath of an outstanding CFL game has been dominated by discussion of poor officiating. The blown call on Andrew Harris’ late fumble was Saturday’s most egregious error, but it was only one of many officiating mistakes committed by Tom Vallesi’s crew. Many unnecessary breakages in play took place as the officials confusedly discussed matters as simple as ball placement or when to call for a measurement. Some blatant infractions were missed during the game, while other borderline calls were flagged without hesitation. I understand that officiating will never be perfect, but can we not at least expect our officials to at least be mediocre? The future of the CFL is at stake. The league needs to find a way to improve its officiating. Now.

3. Speaking of officiating, a third quarter pass from Matt Nichols to Weston Dressler perfectly illustrated why the CFL’s challenge policy is so ineffective. Dressler was contacted early on the play, something that should have resulted in a pass interference call. No flag was thrown, but the play was ruled a reception despite the fact that Dressler did not have full control of the ball before being tackled. The play was poorly officiated — the ruling on the field should have been an incompletion along with a pass interference call on B.C. — but that didn’t matter: the end result (a 12-yard Winnipeg gain) was the same. No harm, no foul. This changed when B.C. head coach Wally Buono challenged the catch, a ruling that was promptly overturned. Mercifully, Mike O’Shea didn’t have a challenge remaining, sparing those in attendance the dreaded ‘double-challenge.’ In all, it was a waste of time — without a challenge system, the play would have continued on as it should have without delay. Instead, the momentum of the game was killed by a review of what turned out to be an inconsequential call on an inconsequential play. Lame.

4. Many people around the league have talked about the Bombers’ over-reliance on turnovers this season. While the Bombers have certainly lived and died by the turnover this year, it’s worth noting that turnovers are often the byproduct of pressuring opposing quarterbacks. Winnipeg got after Jonathon Jennings early on Saturday afternoon, disrupting his rhythm and forcing two early interceptions. Good things tend to happen when Richie Hall dials up blitzes — here’s hoping we see more pressure on opposing pivots as the season progresses.

5. Speaking of turnovers, the Bombers won that battle over B.C. by a 3-0 margin on Saturday. Winnipeg is now plus-27 on the season with 21 giveaways and a jaw-dropping 48 takeaways.

6. After a sack-free performance against B.C., the Bombers are now tied with Edmonton for second league-wide in sacks allowed with just 28. It’s also worth noting that the Eskimos play Montreal on Monday, meaning Winnipeg could very well be alone in second by tomorrow. That’s impressive given the fact that the Bombers allowed 16 sacks through their first five games, fourteen of which came with Drew Willy at the helm. As far as I’m concerned, left guard Travis Bond and right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick should be front-runners for Western Division all-star nods at their respective positions.

7. Rory Kohlert’s first quarter touchdown pass to Matt Nichols was the product of a phenomenally drawn-up play. I saw the direct snap to Andrew Harris coming from a mile away when Nichols vacated the pocket (I literally yelled, “direct snap!” from my seat in the stadium), but I never imagined the play unfolding the way it did. It was the perfect call from Bomber offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to ensure the Bombers got into the end zone for a key score early in the game. Winnipeg’s red zone offence has been suspect at times this season and, given the game’s tight final score, it was essential that the Bombers’ capitalized for majors on its first three red zone possessions of the game. Bravo.

8. Maurice Leggett’s performance on Saturday afternoon is one of the most memorable in the recent history of the Winnipeg Football Club. Leggett, who recorded his league-leading seventh interception in the second quarter, went down early in the second half with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. The third-year Bomber left the field in considerable pain, barely putting any weight on his right leg. The club was quick to announce that Leggett wouldn’t return to the game — an unsurprising piece of news following what looked like a possible ACL tear.

After approximately thirty minutes of rest, Leggett began to work out his knee on the sideline running coverage alongside a practice roster receiver Thomas Mayo. Leggett’s mobility looked fine, but I didn’t notice that he’d reentered the game until he made the game-saving tackle on Chris Rainey on third and one. Talk about a return to the line-up.

9. Speaking of Chris Rainey, it’s difficult to fathom how or why the Bombers repeatedly decided to kick the football to the most dangerous returner in the CFL right now. Canadian receiver Marco Iannuzzi was back to return kick-offs alongside Rainey — still, Justin Medlock booted the ball to the Lions’ dominant return man. I’d like to see some more conservative kick-offs and directional punting next weekend when these teams play at B.C. Place.

10. Attendance for Saturday’s game was just 24,284. That’s a sad number for a fall game with serious playoff implications played in decent fall weather.

11. Why did the Bombers add former Toronto Argonaut receiver Tori Gurley? Julian Feoli-Gudino, who started at slotback on Saturday despite Quincy McDuffie’s return to health, recorded zero receptions and one drop on Saturday afternoon. The Bombers needed to add size and skill to their receiving corps and Gurley — who I expect to start next week in B.C. — brings both.

12. The Bombers will travel to B.C. this week to play the second half of their double-header with the Lions on Friday night. A win for Winnipeg (9-6) would give them the season series over B.C. (9-5) and second place in the West Division before their week 18 bye. A Winnipeg loss by more than two points would give the Lions the season series and a two-point advantage in the standings with a game in hand, all but guaranteeing themselves second place in the West. Stay tuned.

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