The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Ottawa Redblacks by a score of 33-30 in front of 23,725 fans at TD Place Stadium. Here are my thoughts on the game.
1. Winnipeg’s secondary had its best game of the year on Friday night, holding an opponent to under 330 passing yards for the first time this season. Trevor Harris had respectable numbers (27-of-39 for 263 yards and two touchdowns), but the league’s second-leading passer was held to just one completion for three yards on Ottawa’s two final drives. Richie Hall’s soft secondary has been Winnipeg’s weakest link all season long, but a respectable performance in Ottawa could be a sign of positive things to come. If the Bombers’ air defence is finally showing signs of life, there’s no reason why this team can’t beat any opponent in the league.
2. The CFL made changes to its video review system earlier this week, limiting coaches challenges to one per team per game. While the move was met with rave reviews, we had to wait just two days for a team to be forced to waste its only challenge on an obvious non-call. Jonathan Rose mobbed Darvin Adams five minutes into the second quarter on what would have been a 35-yard reception, prompting Mike O’Shea to successfully challenge for pass interference. The Bombers were then unable to challenge anything for the rest of the game, something that would have proved disastrous had another egregious call been missed. I’m all for eliminating unnecessary delays in play, but limiting challenges isn’t a solution to the league’s officiating problems. Gary Lawless, a former CFL insider for TSN, had strong words about the state of the league’s officiating, a perspective I’m not sure he would have been allowed to share if he were still working for the CFL’s broadcasting partner.
As you're witnessing. Review isn't the issue in @cfl. It's the quality of officiating. Talent pool, wages and training budgets must increase
— gary lawless (@garylawless) August 5, 2017
3. Matt Nichols is now 16-10 as the starting quarterback of the Blue Bombers, improving his winning percentage in Winnipeg to .615. Ed Tait recently tabulated the career records of every quarterback that has started a game for the Bombers since 1996 and the numbers aren’t pretty. Nichols now has the best winning percentage of any pivot on that list with at least eighteen starts and is one of just two with above-.500 records this century (the other is Khari Jones at 44-28-1). Say what you want about Nichols’ game, but he’s getting the job done.
4. I figured one of Winnipeg’s receivers would step-up after Weston Dressler was added to the six-game injured list earlier this week, but I didn’t expect it to be Julian Feoli-Gudino. The fourth-year Bomber had six receptions for 73 yards and would have scored a potential game-winning touchdown had Matt Nichols not overthrown him on a go route with one minute left. Good for the Canadian veteran.
5. Speaking of the club’s receiving corps, newcomers Ryan Lankford (two receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown) and T.J. Thorpe (five receptions for 58 yards) both had solid games. When Weston Dressler returns from injury — and I don’t believe it’ll take six weeks for that to happen — I wouldn’t be surprised if Clarence Denmark was the one taken out of the starting line-up.
6. Maurice Leggett was excellent in his return to the line-up, recording seven tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Chris Randle. A pending free agent, the Bombers will have to pay handsomely to keep the league’s best strong-side linebacker in blue and gold next season and beyond.
7. Timothy Flanders made his 2017 debut on Friday night, recording 40 yards on just three carries. Andrew Harris is the club’s undisputed starter, but the Bombers need to find a way to continue dressing Franklin as the season progresses. He’s exceptionally explosive.
8. Quincy McDuffie had a nice game returning the football against his former team — he had four kick-off returns for 83 yards, along with a fifty-yard return on a missed field goal — but he made a costly mental error late in the game. McDuffie allowed Justin Medlock’s kick-off to go for a single point with just 2:43 remaining, making the score 30-27 — a three-point deficit. It’s possible Ottawa special teams coordinator Bob Dyce told McDuffie to let the ball to go into the end zone, but it was a mistake either way — you simply can’t give up a single point there.
9. Speaking of Medlock, when was the last time a kicker made three field goals in the last three minutes of a football game? I’m guessing that’s happened just a handful of times in CFL history (and never in NFL history).
10. The Bombers moved 2017 second round draft pick Qadr Spooner from the practice roster to the one-game injured list this past week. I wonder if the move was prompted by a West Division rival trying to claim him?
11. Speaking of 2017 Blue Bomber draft picks, University of Manitoba product Geoff Gray is impressing early in Green Bay. His status will be a huge matter of interest for Bomber fans as NFL training camps progress over the next six weeks.
Geoff Gray is quietly having another good day. Kid has been impressive.
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) August 1, 2017
Canadian rookie guard Geoff Gray continues to impress. Won all three reps in the 1-on-1 drill, including a turn… https://t.co/wZTu5N3eUS
— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) August 4, 2017
12. Gray’s status is amplified by the inevitability of a ratio change along the Bombers’ offensive line next season. Travis Bond is likely NFL-bound in 2018 — I wouldn’t be surprised if he joined former offensive line coach Bob Wylie in Cleveland — which opens the door for Winnipeg to start three Canadian hogs. With Patrick Neufeld set to hit free agency in February, the Bombers need to continue stockpiling young national offensive linemen for next year and beyond.
13. I believe the next time the Bombers and Redblacks meet in Ottawa will be later this year in the East Final. I don’t care that the Redblacks are 1-5-1 — Ottawa’s simply too talented to continue losing. The club has three games versus Hamilton remaining along with two against both Saskatchewan and Montreal. If the Redblacks win five or six of those games — and I believe they will — that could be enough to earn first place in the East Division. Ottawa won the East at 8-9-1 a year ago; sadly, the division appears to be even less competitive this season.
14. I mentioned the Mortland family in my thoughts about last week’s game, the Californian family that became Bomber fans this winter when the Chargers announced their move from San Diego to Los Angeles. The Bombers put together a wonderful video recap of the Mortland’s visit to Winnipeg last week, highlighting Scott and Gregory’s adventures around the city. It’s worth a watch (or three).
15. The Bombers have finished the first third of their schedule with a 4-2 record, a respectable mark given their strength of schedule and a tricky week one bye. Inexplicably, the club will remain in fourth place in the West Division regardless of the result of Saturday’s match-up between B.C. (4-2) and Saskatchewan (2-3). It’s still early, but fourth place may be the best place for Winnipeg to be — a season after traveling to B.C. for a tough date in the West Semi-Final, going through the East Division in search of a Grey Cup championship might be the way to go. After all, it worked for Ottawa.