It had been a season of mostly unfulfilled expectations for Winnipeg Blue Bombers slotback Cory Watson. Until, that is, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats rolled into town last Thursday.
Watson had a breakout game against the Tabbies in a 32-25 Winnipeg victory, leading all Bombers receivers in catches with 10 and finishing second only to wide receiver Chris Matthews in receiving yardage with 105.
It was exactly the kind of performance the Bombers were expecting this season from the third-year Watson, who had a big sophomore season in 2011 and was rewarded by Bombers management in the off-season with a contract extension.
And it was also long overdue. After catching 69 passes for 783 yards in 2011, Watson was expected to figure prominently in the new Bombers offence being installed this season under first-year offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton.
But a hamstring injury during the pre-season relegated Watson to the sidelines for over a month, causing him to miss the first four games of the season. Those four games, as Bombers fans know too well, were all losses and it is perhaps not entirely coincidental the Bombers have gone 2-1 since Watson returned to the lineup late last month in time for the club's home opener against Edmonton.
Watson had seven catches for 66 yards in a Bombers win over Edmonton and followed up with a touchdown catch the following game in a loss to Montreal.
But it wasn't until the game against Hamilton that Watson appeared to finally shed all the rust and put in the kind of performance his team believes he is capable of night in and night out.
It earned him effusive praise from his head coach.
"He's tough as nails," Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice said last Friday. "And the thing people don't understand is he'll get a crossing route on second-and-eight or second-and-nine and he'll get you all the way to a third-and-one. He's done that the last two weeks. He gets you extra yardage... so that we can call a wedge on third and one and quarterback sneak.
"His blocking is tremendous. And he had the nice catch (for 29 yards against Hamilton) down the seam. Right after he caught the seam ball, he carried (a Hamilton defender) the rest of the night, so it opened up the underneath stuff...
"And he started on punt team. So think about that -- he runs downfield on a corner route, he runs a crossing route and then he has to go down and cover a guy on the punt team. So, you know, he's a good pro."
Watson says he's just happy to finally be able to contribute to a team that is 2-5 and in need of all the help they can get. "It's gratifying to really get on a roll. Being injured for four weeks, it's obviously frustrating. And being in the (situation) we're in right now, even more so. So it's good to get a few wins in -- and also get a few games in for me as well."
Watson appeared to have instant chemistry on Thursday with newly installed starting quarterback Joey Elliott. But the 28-year-old Quebec native noted his relationship with Elliott is actually nothing new, dating back to the 2010 season when both men were Bombers rookies. "We have a good rapport. He got me my first touchdown in the first year as well. We have a good relationship...
"Joey's really confident," Watson continued. "As a starter or as a third-string backup, he's really confident in his abilities. So when he got a chance to go out there and play, that confidence was still there."
Watson said he had no idea heading into the Hamilton game that he was about to have a career night with 10 catches, the most he's ever had during a CFL game. It was just the third time in his career he's had a 100-yards-plus night.
"I had no idea I would have the kind of game I did. It's more just working hard and being in a position to make plays. And that's what happened."
Still fresh off the hamstring injury, Watson was asked if he had any hesitation in also taking on a role this season in the meat grinder that is the punt return team.
"Not at all," Watson said. "I love playing special teams. It's one of those things I pride myself in. Hitting is a part of the game, so you can't shy away from that."
inside: bombers vs. lions notebook C4
Born: March 27, 1984, Dollard des Ormeaux, Que.
Acquired: Second round (ninth overall) in 2010 CFL entry draft
CFL Season: Third
2010: 15 games played, 17 catches, 277 yards, 1 TD
2011: 18 games played, 69 catches, 793 yards, 1 TD
2012: 3 games played, 19 catches, 187 yards, 1 TD