Bombers bury Riders in Banjo Bowl (& 13 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 48-28 in front of 33,134 fans at Investors Group Field in the 14th annual Banjo Bowl. Here are my thoughts on the game.

1. It’s hard to understate the impact of Saturday’s game on the West Division standings for Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. A Rider win would have put the green and white just two points behind Winnipeg and given them the season series with a game in hand. The Bombers, with the win, now have a comfortable six-point lead on the Riders (and the tie-breaker) to remain within striking distance of the Stampeders for first place in the division. That’s a huge swing.

2. Speaking of season series, the Bombers have now won the season series with Saskatchewan for the third-straight season. The Riders swept the Bombers 3-0 in 2014, while the clubs split a two-game set in 2013.

3. Saturday’s game brought with it the results of TSN’s loudest fans competition and the winner, as many expected, was Winnipeg. The contest has drawn ire from some Rider fans — apparently knowing the contest’s “criteria” was an advantage for Bomber fans — but a loose moose (see below) caused thousands of people to arrive at Saturday’s game thirty to sixty minutes late. As far as I’m concerned, the contest was legitimate. The numbers speak for themselves — Winnipeg is home to the CFL’s loudest fans.

4. As mentioned in last week’s post-game piece, the Riders were an astounding plus-twelve in the turnover department during the club’s three-game winning streak. Takeaways win games, but they’re fleeting. Winnipeg won the turnover battle three-to-one on Saturday and the Riders got blown out. I believe Saskatchewan is a better team than the club’s 2-4 start indicated, but the green and white will have to prove they can win without owning the turnover differential.

5. Speaking of winning streaks, the Bombers have now won four straight games at home — the longest such winning streak in the history of Investors Group Field. The Bombers need just one win over their four remaining home games to clinch the club’s first above-.500 record in their new building.

6. Richie Hall’s defence allowed four receptions of more than 30 yards on Saturday, including scores of 88 and 75 yards by Duron Carter and Naaman Roosevelt, respectively. If there’s an area of concern for the Bombers heading into the bye, it’s the defence’s vulnerability to the big ball. Hall talked all week leading up to the Banjo Bowl about limiting ‘explosion’ plays; his unit will have to be better.

7. Speaking of Carter, it’s unfortunate that the Rider receiver was spit on at last week’s Labour Day game. Spitting on another human being is a disgusting act and unacceptable behaviour from anyone, be it a fan, coach or player. With that being said, some people took last week’s incident to portray Bomber fans as group of unruly, disrespectful jerks. This was an unfair generalization propagated by people who lack an understanding of what makes the rivalry between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan so great. As someone who’s attended all fourteen Banjo Bowls, I can attest to the fact that the vast majority of Bomber and Rider fans are decent, respectful people. Anyone who says otherwise is mistaken or lying.

8. The officials appeared to miss a number of offside penalties in last week’s Labour Day game, a trend that continued on Saturday. Jackson Jeffcoat got off the line early on Maurice Leggett’s pick-six in the third quarter and it went uncalled. It didn’t affect the outcome of the game, but it’s a shame the penalty was missed.

9. Speaking of Leggett, what more does the Bombers’ strong-side linebacker need to do to begin earning consideration for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award? He plays the toughest defensive position in the game and does so at a higher level than anyone.

10. The Bombers scratched Drake Nevis on Saturday in favour of rookie Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson, a move I’ve been anticipating for a few weeks. Winnipeg responded with an improved pass rush again the Riders, recording three sacks and a number of pressures on Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge. There are a number of intriguing free agents who could help the Bombers down the stretch — all-star halfback Aaron Grymes and national defensive end Andy Mulumba come to mind — and Nevis is an expensive player to have on the sidelines. Could we see a roster shake-up coming up over the club’s bye week?

11. Speaking of Glenn, it was tough see the veteran pivot go down late in Saturday’s game. Glenn may throw the occasion inopportune interception, but he’s a class act who’s enjoying a very good season at 38 years of age. Here’s hoping the veteran makes a speedy recovery.

12. In a season of brilliant special teams plays — Mike Miller’s fake field goal recovery in B.C. and Medlock’s perfect week six onside kick come to mind — Maurice Leggett’s 97-yard punt return touchdown might be the best. Kevin Fogg led the Riders’ punt cover unit away from the ball in the second quarter, allowing it to land on the opposite side of the field with little resistance for Leggett’s return. We’ll be seeing that replay in highlight packages for quite some time.

13. The Bombers enter their second bye week with an 8-3 record and a firm grasp on second place in the West Division. The Stampeders have been dominant as of late, but with dates against Edmonton (later today) and B.C. (next week) on the docket, it’s possible the Bombers could keep pace with Calgary without playing another game before the 22nd. Stay tuned.

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