Bombers (essentially) clinch home playoff game (& 12 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Edmonton Eskimos by a score of 28-19 in front of 30,524 fans at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.

1. After Saturday’s victory, Winnipeg (10-3) now sits six points ahead of Edmonton (7-6) and Saskatchewan (7-6) with the tie-breaker over both clubs. This means the Bombers need to win just two of their remaining five games to clinch second place in the West Division, earning the club its first home playoff game since 2011. It’s now time to begin talking about the race for first in the West — Calgary has a five-point lead, but the Bombers have a game in hand and a trip to McMahon Stadium scheduled for week twenty. Game on.

2. Mike Reilly threw for just 57 yards in the first half of Saturday’s game, a testament to the Bombers’ improving pass defence. Winnipeg limited long balls, winning a number of the 50/50 tosses that Edmonton so often completes. Reilly finished the game with 311 passing yards, but that’s not a terrible number considering he attempted a whopping 33 passes in the second half alone. We’ll have to wait and see if the change is permanent, but it appears the Bombers’ defence may be starting to hit its stride at the right time.

3. Andrew Harris had nine receptions for 81 yards in Edmonton, leaving him 282 yards shy of 1,000 on the season. On pace for 1,084 yards rushing and 994 yards receiving, Harris is already the leading candidate to be named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian (especially with Jerome Messam out with injury). If he reaches 1,000 yards rushing and receiving, don’t be surprised if Harris is also named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.

4. Chris Randle really flexed his muscles late in Saturday’s game, recording a drive-stopping knockdown late in the fourth quarter before eventually sealing the game with a pick-six. Randle deserves to be named a CFL all-star at cornerback this season and should be one of the first pending free agents Winnipeg locks up this winter.

5. Justin Medlock had the worst night of his career on Saturday night, missing all three of his field goal attempts and a convert. Three weeks shy of his 34th birthday, is Medlock starting to show his age?

6. Tristan Okpalaugo had his best game as a Blue Bomber on Saturday, recording five quarterback pressures and a sack. Winnipeg needed a pass rusher to step-up following the loss of Jamaal Westerman two weeks ago; it appears Okpalaugo is more than ready to fill that void.

7. Darvin Adams went over the 1,000-yard mark on this 13-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter. What a phenomenal play to reach that milestone for the first time in his career.

8. I’m not trying to take anything away from Edmonton’s injury woes — the Esks came into Saturday’s game with 21 injuries to the Bombers’ three — but it’s important to consider the caliber of players who are hurt. Winnipeg’s six-game injured list features a future hall of famer in Weston Dressler, one of the league’s best Canadian players in Jamaal Westerman, and arguably the club’s best linebacker in Ian Wild. With Edmonton’s recent additions taken into account (Derel Walker, Aaron Grymes, John Chick, etc.), the only injured Esks I’d put in the starting line-up are J.C. Sherritt, John White, Simeon Rottier, and Arjen Colquhoun. Again, I’m not trying to make light of Edmonton’s injuries — starters or not, they’re missing plenty of great players — but the situation isn’t as bleak as the size of their six-game injured list may suggest.

9. Speaking of Chick, the veteran defensive end has yet to win a game this season. Chick was a member of the Ticats during Hamilton’s putrid 0-8 start and is 0-5 since being traded to Edmonton.

10. Julian Feoli-Gudino left Saturday’s game with an upper body injury and did not return. Maurice Leggett also left Saturday’s game with an apparent arm injury; losing Leggett, arguably the Bombers’ top defensive player, would be devastating for Richie Hall’s defence. Here’s hoping Leggett is back for Friday’s game against the Ticats.

11. Watching Brandon Zylstra reach the 1,000-yard receiving mark on Saturday, I couldn’t help noticing that age appears to have caught up with Adarius Bowman. Bowman, 32, has just 277 yards in seven games this season — barely one-third the per-game production he enjoyed in 2016 (1,761 yards in 17 games). Bowman makes a lot of money and, with Derel Walker back in green and gold, looks to the the Esks’ fourth-best target. Needless to say, it’s tough to see the Eskimos bringing Bowman back next season.

12. Bomber fans should keep a close eye on how the rest of the season unfolds in Montreal. Whether or not the Alouettes keep Kavis Reed on as general manager (and I suspect they won’t), Paul LaPolice is likely to receive serious consideration to become the club’s next head coach. Losing LaPolice, who has been so instrumental in revitalizing the career of Matt Nichols, would be devastating for the Bombers.

13. The Blue Bombers will host the 3-10 Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday evening for the first of three October games at Investors Group Field. A win would move Winnipeg to within three points of Calgary, a club that is heading into its second and final bye week.