After an inconsistent first half of the 2010 CFL season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers appeared to be back on track after simply dominating their bitter prairie rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, 31-2 in front of a raucous Banjo Bowl home crowd at Canad Inns Stadium.
Rider fans swarmed around the stadium pre-game, cocky as ever, as they enjoyed a six game win-streak against the Blue Bombers, which stretched as far back as the 2007 Grey Cup. Good natured ribbing was had by both sides before the game, but as the game started and the Bombers took full control of the game, things got a little one-sided.
Stunned green and white faces were scattered amongst the throngs of blue and gold supporters, who were exceptionally loud during the game’s biggest moments. The Bombers were firing on all cylinders that Sunday, as every unit of the team came up with huge plays.
Steven Jyles was 19 for 23 and threw for 169 yards and a touchdown, while Fred Reid was explosive on the ground, rushing 17 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Reid’s longest carry was an impressive 61 yard TD run that gave the Bombers 17 unanswered points with 13:12 to go in the second quarter.
On the defensive side of the ball, the boys in blue played extremely well, and the proof was on the scoreboard where they effectively shut the Riders out, except for two botched Saskatchewan kicks that gave the Riders their two points. There was a “take no prisoners” mentality amongst the defense, as they laid out several huge hits that brought the Bomber faithful to their feet.
What was possibly the highlight of the game came midway through the third quarter, as the Riders had possession of the ball at around midfield. Darian Durant scrambled as the pocket collapsed around him and fumbled the ball, but was able to recover it right away. Defensive end Odell Willis caught up to Durant who desperately lobbed a high under arm pass to running back Chris Szarka to avoid being tackled for a loss. Szarka probably wished that he didn’t catch the ball, as Marcellus Bowman had him right in his sights and delivered a hellacious hit that knocked the ball loose, resulting in what looked like a Bomber TD.
Unfortunately, Willis was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty, which wiped the touchdown off the board, but that was little comfort to Szarka, who stayed on the ground for about a minute after being hit.
The Blue Bombers, who snapped a five game losing streak with the win, followed an impressive effort in Winnipeg with a less than stellar showing in Toronto and now sit at 3-8 on the season. The Bombers looked as though they got sucked into a defensive battle with the Argonauts and ended up losing by a score of 17-13. It took only a few hours on a Sunday afternoon to nearly erase the bounding enthusiasm Winnipeggers had been running on since the Banjo Bowl.
It is important to realize, though, that after this weekend the Bombers are still tied with the BC Lions, who are currently third in the West and barely holding onto a playoff berth in the Western semifinal. Although it has never happened before, if the Bombers can finish the season ahead of both the Lions and the West Division basement dwellers, the Edmonton Eskimos, they would make the playoffs in what would be the first ever East-to-West playoff crossover game since the crossover rule was implemented back in 1996.
With seven games to go in the season, the Blue Bombers are still in control of their own destiny. The last stretch of the schedule includes two games against the Lions, one more against the Argos and another against the rebuilding Eskimos, who the Bombers routed 47-21 in Week 4. All these games will be extremely important for building team momentum and consistency. It’s also important that the Bombers use them to make a statement to the rest of the league that the Bombers are a better team than their record indicates.
Also on the back end of the schedule are two games against divisional rivals the Montreal Alouettes and the regular season closer against the Calgary Stampeders. Considered to be the top two best teams in the league, these games will be an opportunity for the Bombers to prove themselves worthy of being considered a Grey Cup contender.
Of course, before we start selling playoff tickets, it must be recognized that we are still only 3-8 team. As I am writing this, the Bombers have yet to string two wins in a row and have yet to win a game on the road this season. While there’s good reason to have an optimistic outlook for the remainder of the season, the fact remains that we are tied for sixth overall in an eight team league and are last in our division. But in the CFL, it’s all a matter of peaking at the right time in the season. If they can regroup from a tough loss to Toronto, perhaps the time is right for the Bombers.