Bombers collapse out east — again (& 10 other thoughts)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were defeated by the Montreal Alouettes by a score of 38-37 in front of 19,070 fans at Percival Molson Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Below are my thoughts on the game.

Like a cheap folding chair

The Bombers suffered their second epic collapse of the 2019 regular season on Saturday, coughing up a 37-17 fourth-quarter lead to the Alouettes.

Winnipeg lost in Toronto last month after reaching a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter. The club didn’t trail in that game until Tyler Crapigna kicked a game-winning convert with 10 seconds left, securing a 28-27 victory for Toronto.

One epic collapse is enough, but two? That’s not championship football. Winnipeg’s chances of reaching the Grey Cup are greatly diminished if they need to travel to Calgary for the West Final. Hosting that game is key — even with a Week 21 bye.

If the Bombers are forced to play in the West Semi-Final — at home or on the road — it will be due to two collapses out east.

Winnipeg is 6-1 against the West Division — they’ve taken care of business against divisional opponents. But a 3-3 record against the East Division is disappointing and could prove costly come the post-season.

Spitting fire

Some of the intrigue ahead of Saturday’s match-up was due to the comments made by members of the Alouettes and Bombers on Friday.

Vernon Adams Jr. started the drama by saying that William Stanback was the best running back in the CFL. John Bowman later poured fuel on the fire when he called Andrew Harris a “cheater,” saying, “if it was up to me he would get suspended longer.”

Harris responded to Bowman’s comments, calling them, “ignorant as hell.”

I enjoy it when players talk trash in the media. It creates story lines, intrigue, and drama — all things we love here at 3DownNation. I also want to recognize that John Bowman is a hall of fame-calibre player who’s enjoyed an outstanding 14-year career.

With that said, I thought it was bizarre that a CFLPA player representative would call out a fellow professional like that. Bowman served on the CBA bargaining committee for the players, working to make inroads with the league on behalf of his colleagues.

Harris tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, which will always draw criticism. I’m just not sure why a player with such strong ties to the players’ union would choose to levy that criticism publicly.

For the record, Harris out-gained Stanback by 183 yards from scrimmage in Saturday’s game.

Feed me!

Speaking of Harris, the Bombers handed the ball off to their franchise player just five times in the second half. That makes little sense given Winnipeg’s need to kill the clock and the fresh nature of Harris’ legs.

The running back didn’t produce outstanding numbers in the second half with just 17 rushing yards, but that’s no reason to stop using him. There’s also the matter of Winnipeg neglecting its other ball carriers.

Nic Demski carried the ball just once in the second half, while Streveler rushed twice for nine yards. Johnny Augustine didn’t record a touch, which seems like a glaring oversight considering he averaged 6.2 yards per carry while Harris served his two-game suspension.

Winnipeg’s offence is a possession-oriented unit that attacks opposing defences with physicality along the ground. If there’s any team that should be able to kill the clock late, it’s the Bombers.

Jones-ing for success

As someone who grew up in Winnipeg during his tenure as the team’s starting quarterback, it’s been fun to watch Khari Jones make the most of his head coaching opportunity in Montreal.

Jones has 10 years of CFL coaching experience and has served as the offensive coordinator with three teams: Hamilton, 2011; B.C., 2014-2017; and Montreal, 2018.

I’m not convinced that Jones was ever an elite coordinator — though some believe he was micro-managed by Wally Buono during his stint in Vancouver — but he’s clearly cut out to be a head coach.

The Alouettes are unrecognizable under Jones. The team plays hard and with tremendous energy and excitement. The brand of football is similar to that of Winnipeg’s during Jones’ tenure as quarterback, which was must-watch entertainment.

It should also be noted that Jones is working with a coaching staff that was assembled by Mike Sherman. He didn’t have the opportunity to bring in his own assistants, which is often a deal-breaker for coaches taking over a new team.

It may only be September, but the CFL may as well conduct the voting for Coach of the Year now. Jones is the runaway winner.

Take a pass

Vernon Adams Jr. was spectacular against Winnipeg, finishing the game 27-of-43 passing for 488 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He also carried the ball six times for 38 yards and one score.

His emergence is probably too late to garner serious M.O.P. consideration, but Adams Jr. is the most exciting player to watch in the CFL right now. He buys time with his legs, makes mistakes, throws the ball with authority, and is never afraid to go downfield. It’s outstanding entertainment.

Richie Hall will face criticism in Bomberland this week for the play of his defence in the second half. Holding William Stanback to two yards on five carries is impressive, but not when your opponent throws for almost 500 yards.

F for effort

Andrew Harris’ biggest play of the game was a 74-yard reception from Darvin Adams — yes, Darvin Adams — midway through the second quarter.

Harris showed impressive determination on the play, but Tommie Campbell’s lack of effort is what really struck me. I can’t remember seeing a more apathetic display of tackling in all my years of watching professional football.

Campbell is a good player — he probably brings Harris down if he really tries. This was a clear lack of effort from a veteran player who should know better.

Long-awaited debut

Veteran offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld made his season debut on Saturday afternoon, replacing Geoff Gray at right guard.

Neufeld was diagnosed with an undisclosed injury in training camp that the Bombers called “day-to-day.” The 30-year-old was placed on the one-game injured list to start the year, but ended up missing over three months.

Neufeld looked comfortable in his return to Winnipeg’s offensive line, bringing a physical presence in the run game. The Bombers’ offensive line is getting healthy at the right time with Geoff Gray and Cody Speller serving as depth players along the interior.

Major oversight

Ben Major, usually an umpire, got the chance to serve as the head official for Saturday’s game. It’s always nice to see officials get the chance to work their way up to the top job — fresh blood is always good — and Major has a good reputation in the league.

Vernon Adams Jr. was flagged for this exchange with Adam Bighill, but wasn’t ejected. That seems wrong. Expect Adams Jr. to be fined this week by the CFL’s head office.

Med-locked out

It would be unfair to blame Winnipeg’s loss on Justin Medlock, but the veteran chose an inopportune time to miss his first convert of the season.

Medlock hadn’t missed a convert in almost two years, successfully booting well over 100 consecutive extra points over that span.

The 35-year-old also missed a 53-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter when it bounced off the upright, which was just his second miss since mid-July.


Joe Mack ran the Blue Bombers into the ground during his stint as the team’s general manager from 2010 to 2013. He rarely participated in free agency, never signed a young quarterback worth developing, and failed miserably in the CFL draft.

The worst moment of Mack’s tenure as GM was the day he chose to insinuate that the death of defensive line coach Richard Harris was the reason his team was struggling.

“We’ve had a fairly rough year for the psyche of the team,” Mack told the Winnipeg media. “It started with the death of coach Richard Harris. As I reflect back … it had a much bigger effect on the psyche of the team than I even realized.”

Mack gave that quote three days after his team lost the Labour Day Classic in Regina by a score of 52-0. He had fired Paul LaPolice just one week earlier and the reality was his squad — which lacked talent at every position — didn’t want to play for a new coach.

The 65-year-old was relieved of his duties 11 months later with his team at 1-5.

Mack was hired by Kavis Reed in January of 2017 to serve as an assistant general manager in Montreal. The pair were in Winnipeg together in 2010 when Reed served as the Bombers’ defensive coordinator.

The one area in which Mack excelled as Winnipeg’s general manager was the scouting and recruitment of young American talent. He uncovered a number of good young imports with the Bombers, including: Chris Garrett, who was excellent until he suffered a torn Achilles in 2012; Clarence Denmark, a CFL all-star in 2014; Chris Matthews, the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 2012; Bryant Turner, a two-time East Division all-star; Jason Vega, who later played for the Dallas Cowboys; Alex Hall, who averaged almost a sack per game in 2012 and 2013; Johnny Sears, a versatile defensive back; Alex Suber, who started 65 games at halfback; and Demond Washington, a solid cover man who excelled in the return game.

Mack has done the same in Montreal, helping facilitate the signing of a number of talented young Americans. These players include: William Stanback, one of the league’s top running backs; Quan Bray, a play-making deep threat; Jake Wieneke, a big-bodied possession slotback; and Greg Reid, a physical cover man.

Five to go

The Blue Bombers (9-4) host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (10-3) next week in what is arguably the toughest home game of Winnipeg’s schedule. The Bombers have a perfect 6-0 record at home this season and a seventh win would secure the club’s best home record since IG Field opened in 2013.

Jeremiah Masoli suffered a torn ACL the last time Winnipeg and Hamilton played, a 23-15 victory for the Ticats on July 26. Dane Evans has played well since taking over as the club’s starting quarterback, possibly making Masoli expendable for the Ticats beyond 2019.

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