The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Toronto Argonauts by a score of 48-21 in front of 24,187 fans at I.G. Field on Friday night.
Below are my thoughts on the game.
That was quick
Lucky Whitehead returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown, setting the Bombers up with an early lead. Whitehead was untouched on the return following blocks thrown up by John Rush and Derek Jones. It was a lead the Bombers would waste no time increasing.
Following a short opening drive by the Argos, Charles Nelson returned a Zach Medeiros punt to the five-yard line. The drive was capped off by an Andrew Harris touchdown reception just three minutes and 43 seconds into the game giving the Bombers a 14-0 lead. Long touchdown passes to Darvin Adams and Nic Demski (38 and 67 yards, respectively) made the score 28-0, and the Bombers didn’t look back en route to their first 4-0 start in 16 years.
Very special teams
It’s rare that special teams play can win a football game in as measurable a way as it did on Friday night. Along with Whitehead’s kickoff return touchdown, the Bombers special teams unit also accounted for four field goals and a total of 350 return yards while allowing only 150 yards by the Argo’s Chris Rainey. Justin Medlock’s punting was also fantastic, averaging 49.5 yards on six punts.
The main reason the Bombers beat the Eskimos two weeks ago while allowing Trevor Harris to throw for gobs of yardage was that their special teams unit took over the field position battle. It’s pleasantly surprising to see an even better performance just two weeks later.
Harris joins elite company
Andrew Harris became the 12th player in CFL history (and just the second Canadian) to rush for 8,000 career yards in Friday’s game. He passed the milestone in style on a 52-yard romp at the end of the second quarter to set up a Justin Medlock field goal.
Harris should be past his prime at age 32, but he continues to produce. The record for career rushing yards by a Canadian back is held by Normie Kwong with 9,022 yards. It will likely take Harris another full season to break that record, but if he’s able to stay healthy it’s a CFL record that is in reach for the Winnipeg native.
Game manager no more?
There seems to be more made of Matt Nichols “game manager” moniker this year than any other. His passing totals are good but not elite (he currently sits sixth in league passing with 855 yards through four games), but it’s his ability to throw touchdown passes that’s been extremely effective.
With an offseason to heal after a training camp injury last year, Nichols has better control over the long ball – his touchdown pass to Darvin Adams was about as perfectly thrown as possible – and he’s finding open receivers better than previous seasons. He leads the league in touchdown passes with 10 and has complimented that with only one interception. Perhaps it’s time to retire the “game manager” moniker.
Adam Bighill was ruled out for a second consecutive game on Friday night after tweaking something in practice a couple of weeks ago. I suspect he could have played against Toronto if needed, but between how well the Bomber’s defense played without him in Ottawa and the Argos poor record coming into the contest it’s no surprise that the team opted to give him another week to heal up. Speaking of injured players…
Jeff Hecht, Anthony Gaitor, Jermarcus Hardrick, Jesse Briggs, and Matt Nichols all left the game at various points with injuries. Both Gaitor and Nichols returned to the game, with Gaitor recovering a fumble in the second half.
McLoed Bethel-Thompson was able to take advantage of the Bomber’s secondary in the second half (more on him in a moment) once Hecht and Gaitor were out of the game, but the biggest challenge for the Bombers was covering for the absence of Jermarcus Hardrick on the right side of the offensive line.
With Hardrick out, undrafted second-year man Cody Speller moved out to the vacant right tackle spot and 2019 fourth overall draft pick Drew Desjarlais drew in at left guard. Friday night was the first time Speller has played at tackle after being a career centre for the McMaster Marauders and the inexperience between himself and Desjarlais showed at times in the game. The Bombers will hope for Matt Nichols’ sake that the injury won’t sideline Hardrick for an extended period.
Walker breaks out
Through his first three games with the boatmen Derel Walker had a paltry seven catches and zero touchdowns. It seems that Toronto’s offence finally realized they had the CFL’s highest paid receiver to throw the ball to and they used him accordingly. It was clear that the game plan was to target Walker as often as possible, and second year pivot McLeod Bethel-Thompson relied heavily on the veteran receiver.
Walker had a breakout game in Winnipeg, setting a personal best for yards in a game with 188 on only nine receptions. Walker also added two touchdown and was the Argos lone bright spot in a game that had spilled beyond reach in the first quarter.
Third quarter blues
The Bombers offensive and defensive units were pretty flat for most of the second half, though I’m willing to give them a pass given that they had a commanding 37-6 lead through 30 minutes. McLeod Bethel-Thompson picked apart the Bomber’s secondary to throw for two touchdowns in the second half (he also threw for one in the second quarter), and accumulated a career-high 388 passing yards on the day.
Given time in the pocket, I was impressed with Bethel-Thompson’s arm strength and his ability to target open receivers down the field. Of course, this took place during garbage time, but hopefully Argo fans can hope to see more from their current starting quarterback.
“Bend but not break” defence
All good things must come to an end, and the Bombers couldn’t keep their opposition out of the endzone forever. McLeod Bethel-Thompson’s second quarter touchdown pass to Derel Walker just before the three minute warning ended the Bombers’ streak of 10 quarters without allowing a touchdown dating back to Lemar Durant’s grab in the third quarter of Week 1 game action in Vancouver — a whopping 41 consecutive possessions.
The streak was always going to end, but Bomber fans can take solace that it ended when the team had a 31-point lead in the game.
Still on a roll
The Bombers invite the 2-2 Ottawa Redblacks this Friday, July 19, and have a chance to move to 5-0 for the first time since 1960. The Bombers dispatched the Rouge et Noir in impressive fashion just a week and a half ago in Ottawa and will be looking to repeat that feat in front of their home crowd. These truly are exciting times in Bomberland.
Since starting the season with impressive wins against Calgary and Saskatchewan, the Redblacks have fallen to .500 after loses to the Bombers and Alouettes and now sit in third place in the East Division. Ottawa will be desperate to get back in the win column and it should make for an exciting game next week.
Programming note: With John still away on his honeymoon, I will be back with my thoughts following the Bombers Week 6 contest against the Ottawa Redblacks. John and I will not be recording The Blue Bomber Talk Podcast until he returns.