Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bane of Bombers still the turnovers

Wins not forthcoming till situation changes

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Tim Burke was right -- to a point.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach had been insisting for the last week to anyone who was listening his team was much, much better than the sadsacks who were shellacked 52-0 by Hamilton and 24-6 by Toronto in pre-season games.

While that was looking initially like an optimistic assessment Thursday night as the visiting Montreal Alouettes jumped out to a 14-0 lead just five minutes into the first regular-season game at Investors Group Field, by night's end there were few in the sold-out house who would argue that these 2013 Bombers aren't vastly more competitive than they looked in the pre-season.

While the final result -- a 38-33 Montreal Alouettes victory -- was a disappointment on a night the Bombers led by nine points heading into the fourth quarter, the Bombers also left little doubt with their effort against what is annually one of the best teams in the league that they should be competitive in 2013.

Take away the dreadful first five minutes and the Bombers would have beaten the Als handily, even despite also being outscored 14-0 in the fourth quarter.

Alas, you can't just arbitrarily subtract the first five minutes of a CFL game whenever it suits you and the fact that we are yet again talking about this subject should be cause for broader concern among Bombers fans.

Because while you can chalk up the terrible start Thursday night to opening-night nerves on an especially historic occasion, the fact is the tendency of Winnipeg Blue Bombers teams to get off to a terrible start is hardly something new.

Indeed, you could make a compelling argument that Winnipeg's 6-12 record in 2012 had as its single most important contributing factor the fact that the Bombers got outscored in the first quarter last season by an eye-popping 145-45 -- a ratio of better than 3-to-1.

So while it would be easy to be dismissive of the first five minutes on Thursday as nothing more than a blip, you could also just as easily argue that it is the continuation of a maddening trend that is going to hang around this team's neck like an anchor until someone can finally figure out a way to communicate to this bunch that this is football, not hockey, and it is measured in four quarters, not three periods.

Burke said as much in his post-mortem on Friday, pointing to the three first-half turnovers -- the Bombers first offensive play from scrimmage was a Buck Pierce interception -- as something that is going to kill this team every single time, until it doesn't.

"Until we stop turning the ball over," said Burke, "we're not going to win any games. That's just the way it is."

"But if we can stop turning the ball over, we're a good enough team to beat anybody."

Burke's team made a case for that -- albeit an incomplete offering -- in giving the Alouettes all they could handle right until the dying minutes.

While the Bombers offence wasn't great -- Burke described the first-half effort as "anemic" -- Winnipeg still finished the night with 290 yards in net offence, just 24 yards less than the great Anthony Calvillo and the Als mustered.

Buck Pierce's final numbers -- 19-34, 258, 2 TDs -- were also very similar to Calvillo's -- 20-35, 264, 1 TD -- but with one notable exception.

While Calvillo was picked off once, Pierce was picked off three times -- twice in the first half when it mattered most. The first of Pierce's interceptions resulted in Montreal's first touchdown, while the second one gift-wrapped Montreal a field goal.

Put it all together and it was 10 points on a night when the margin of the Alouettes' victory was just five points.

So yeah, Burke was right -- these 2013 Bombers are a lot better than they looked in the pre-season. But until they start playing 60 minutes and stop making so many unforced errors, the result is going to be more of the same -- losses.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 29, 2013 0

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