TORONTO — In what is now a 5-11 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season, what happened on the field at Rogers Centre Friday night probably falls into the category of too little, too late.
Sure, a 44-32 Winnipeg win over the Toronto Argonauts kept alive the most narrow of Bombers playoff hopes for at least one more week. But that’s what they are — the most narrow of playoff hopes (and more on that later).
Still, don’t you dare suggest to Bombers QB Buck Pierce — or the rest of a jubilant Bombers locker-room — that what they did last night was meaningless.
It meant something all right. Just listen. "It proves right there that we have pride," said Pierce. "We’re playing not only for a long shot into the playoffs, but we’re playing for pride. We’re playing for the name on the back of our jersey and the ‘W’ on the front. These things are important to us, they’re important to me.
"A lot of people were saying I shouldn’t play, that I should rest to the end of the season and all that stuff. Heck with that, I’m playing. This is my decision. I want to be out there with my guys because I have pride. And I think that’s what this game was about."
Starting just his sixth game all season and first since the Argos knocked him out of commission with a concussion the last time the two teams played on Sept. 29, Pierce took a savage beating (as he usually does) but finished the game (as he usually doesn’t). His numbers were nothing special — 13-22 for 200 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs — but this night wasn’t about the passing, it was about the rushing.
And the rushing was epic, as Winnipeg tailback Chad Simpson and a huge supporting cast ran up a whopping 260 rushing yards to achieve the CFL rarity of more rushing yards — way more rushing yards — than passing yards in a game.
Still, on a night that Simpson alone rushed for 136 yards to go over the 1,000-yard season plateau (he now has 1,003 yards in 2012), the former NFLer was tipping his hat in the direction of Pierce. "We had to make their players honest," Simpson said. "Now if you want to load the box, we’ve got guys over the top and we’ve got guys outside. Buck did a great job orchestrating the whole ordeal.
"He just had a great game."
And it was also a game where Pierce was not going to be denied the finish. On a night he took several huge hits, a particularly fearsome blow in the third quarter had the Bombers coaching staff waving for Pierce to come out.
A defiant Pierce simply waved back — and kept right on playing. Pierce laughed about it afterward with reporters. "If I would have sat down for a second," he said, "you guys would have been up there (in the press box) typing about it already."
The Bombers got four rushing touchdowns — two from an unusually involved backup QB Alex Brink — and also got a four-yard TD reception from defensive end Jason Vega, the second time in two seasons Vega has caught a TD pass for the Bombers.
Vega left the game late with what was described as a lower body injury. Defensive back Johnny Sears and safety Ian Logan also left the game with injury and did not return — Sears on the very first play when he was rocked returning the opening kickoff.
The Argos got all four of their touchdowns through the air, with Argos QB Ricky Ray hooking up with receiver Jason Barnes on three of them.
Now, about those narrow Winnipeg playoff hopes.
According to CFL statistician Steve Daniel, the Bombers retained a narrow path to the playoffs regardless of what the Edmonton Eskimos did in their game against the B.C. Lions late Friday night. While it’s been widely reported that Winnipeg can only keep their playoff hopes alive if they win all their remaining games and Edmonton loses all theirs, Daniel found one another scenario, provided Winnipeg wins out:
If Toronto loses their final two games of the regular season — next week in Saskatchewan and then at home to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats; if the Ticats finish 2-1 in their final three games — today in Calgary, next week at home against Winnipeg and then finally in Toronto; then all three teams would finish tied at 7-11, but Winnipeg would win the tiebreaker and be awarded second overall and actually host the East semifinal.
That’s a lot of ifs, of course. But where there’s hope there’s life and there was plenty of both Friday night in a Bombers locker-room.