Bombers win, Karen loses (& 13 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts on Thursday night by a score of 33-25 at Investors Group Field. Here are my thoughts:

1. The biggest loser of Thursday evening’s contest was Winnipeg woman Karen Kuldys. Kuldys believed she had won Safeway’s Kick for a Million contest when Martese Jackson returned the game’s second kick-off for a touchdown, only to have it called back on a phantom illegal block. The hashtag #WhatAboutKaren was trending on Twitter in Canada not long after halftime and, by the fourth quarter, was the country’s number one trending topic. Every season there are a handful of regular season CFL games that stand out from the rest — ones that fans discuss for years after they happen. I believe Thursday night’s game will be one of them. Its moniker? The Karen Game.

2. Speaking of officiating, Ben Major’s crew was simply horrendous on Thursday evening. The game included a number of questionable calls, some erroneous missed calls, and too many delays. Major got the down wrong after a third quarter pass interference delay, while a head-shot on Ricky Ray was missed on Toronto’s final offensive snap. I’m not one to take shots at officials for every mistake they make — we all make errors from time to time — but bad officiating almost spoiled what was otherwise a highly-entertaining game on Thursday night. The league’s officials need to be better.

3. The West Division is now 8-1-1 versus the East Division this season. Looking at the remaining list of games this weekend (Calgary at Montreal; Ottawa at Edmonton; B.C. at Hamilton) it’s not hard to imagine that record improving to 11-1-1 by Saturday evening. I’ve twice written on the topic of changing the league’s divisional format to better balance the league’s top teams (you can find them here and here) and every time I do people tell me that it’s only a matter of time before the East catches up to the West. I think it’s safe to say that this won’t be the year.

4. Weston Dressler made seven receptions on Thursday night for 107 yards, moving him into third place in league receiving with 309 yards. Not bad for a short 32-year-old.

5. The Bombers’ cover units, widely considered among the best in the league, really struggled on Thursday night. Martese Jackson, a player the Bombers cut prior to last year’s training camp, burned them for 337 yards on eleven returns, one of which went for a touchdown. Jackson should have had a second one, but alas… #WhatAboutKaren

6. It’s nice to see Lirim Hajrullahu having so much success in Toronto. Hajrullahu was good on just 22 of 32 field goal tries in his sophomore season with the Bombers in 2015, but has just nine misses on 66 attempts since then with the Argos. It’s rare for a Canadian player to be capable of doing all three kicking jobs — the Argos are lucky to have him.

7. Attendance at Thursday night’s game was just 25,085, an unfortunate byproduct of last week’s letdown versus the Stampeders. I believe the Bombers would have sold out versus Toronto had last week’s game not been a dud on and off the field, which puts into perspective how poor attendance was on Thursday.

8. Winnipeg’s offensive line had a coming-out party on Thursday evening, holding a vaunted Argonaut front-seven to zero sacks on the night. Andrew Harris also had plenty of running lanes available to him, carrying 17 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns. I expected the Bombers to have the best offensive line in the league in 2017 and they’re starting to live up to those lofty expectations.

9. T.J. Heath, who led the CFL in interceptions last season with seven, had another one tonight to bring his 2017 total to four. The all-time record for picks in a season is 15, set by the late Al Brenner with Hamilton in 1972. Heath’s got 15 games left this season — is there a chance he surpasses Brenner?

10. Congratulations to the family of the late Jack Jacobs, who was inducted to the Blue Bomber Ring of Honour on Thursday. Jacobs didn’t play a down of Canadian football until he was 31, but quickly revolutionized the game with his stellar arm and passing prowess. Jacobs’ exciting play drew so many fans to Osbourne Stadium in downtown Winnipeg that the city built Winnipeg Stadium (later called Canad Inns Stadium) in 1953 so more fans could come see him play. Even until its demolition in 2013, many Winnipeggers referred to old Canad Inns as ‘the house that Jack built.’ What an amazing legacy.

11. The Blue Bomber defence has allowed at least 330 passing yards in every game this year, but it’s tough to be critical of that given how little teams are running the ball this season. Richie Hall’s defence has faced 129 pass attempts this year, an average of 43 per game. Giving up passing yardage in the CFL is inevitable when opposition is passing 40-plus times per contest. We’ll see if the trend continues in 2017.

12. On the flip side, the Bombers have allowed just 125 rushing yards through three games this season. I’m not sure what the club record is for fewest rushing yards allowed in a campaign, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s team is on pace to break it.

13. Matt Nichols finished the game with mediocre numbers after a slow start (20-of-36 for 228 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions), but the win moved him into a tie with Buck Pierce for most wins as the club’s starting quarterback since 2009. I’ll leave the chart below — there are some interesting names near the bottom.

Quarterback Wins with Bombers since 2009
Buck Pierce 14
Matt Nichols 14
Drew Willy 11
Michael Bishop 6
Joey Elliott 2
Alex Brink 2
Justin Goltz 1
Max Hall 1
Stefan LeFors 1

14. The Bombers will take their 2-1 record to Vancouver to play the B.C. Lions next Friday night in what’s sure to be a must-see game. Winnipeg has won three of the last four regular season games in B.C. since 2014, but last year’s West Semi-Final loss still looms large. The Bombers get three consecutive East Division opponents after their date with B.C. (vs. Montreal; at Ottawa; at Hamilton), so a win versus the Lions could allow the club to string a nice group of wins together.

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