Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Black and Blue and Gold

Can Bombers recover from kicking?

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It was half-time on Sunday afternoon in the Labour Day Classic at Mosaic Stadium and the mood inside the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker-room was buoyant.

The Bombers were trailing the Saskatchewan Roughriders 10-4 at that point, they were being outplayed in all three aspects of the game and the Winnipeg coaching staff was looking hard-pressed on the sidelines to find any answers.

The Bombers had the Riders right where they wanted them, in other words. "We obviously didn't play the way we wanted in the first half," Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown would reflect afterward, "but we had that expectation coming out for the second half that, 'Hey, we're a second-half team. It's within reach, it's attainable, it's within our grasp. This is what we do.'"

It is, in fact, precisely what Winnipeg does. Four times the Bombers have trailed after the first half this season -- and all four times they have gone on to win. Twice, they were still trailing after the third quarter and both of those times they still went on to win, too.

And so as bad as the first half was for Winnipeg on Sunday -- especially on offence, where they'd mustered just a field goal, a single and 139 yards -- the sense in the Bombers dressing room was optimistic as the players headed back out their locker-room door. And as they did so, they had one other reason to believe.

Above the door to the visitors locker-room for all the players to see on Sunday, the Bombers equipment crew had taped up the name plate of Winnipeg's late assistant head coach, Richard Harris. Heading into Regina, the Bombers had played four times since Harris died suddenly of a heart attack on July 26 -- and all four times they'd won.

There was every reason, in other words -- past performance, maybe even fate -- for the Bombers players to think the second half in Regina on Sunday afternoon would play out according to the same script the club has been using this entire remarkable season.

Except, it turned out, for one. Because what no one in the Winnipeg locker-room could have expected -- indeed, not even the most rabid of Riders fans could have expected -- was that a bye week and a coaching change in Regina had transformed what had been a lifeless 1-7 sad sack of an outfit into a dominating, all-purpose juggernaut that looked in a 27-7 thrashing of the Bombers on Sunday every bit like the Riders team that's been to three of the last four Grey Cup games.

It wasn't, mind you, so much that the Riders were doing anything particularly different on the field. Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice would later say that the Riders had a couple of defensive wrinkles on Sunday that he wasn't expecting, but it didn't sound like Saskatchewan reinvented the game of football simply because Ken Miller -- who led the Riders to the last two Grey Cup games in a row -- had returned to the sidelines after the Aug. 19 firing of head coach Greg Marshall.

"It wasn't like they pulled something out of their magic hat that didn't look like a rabbit," said Brown. "It was pretty standard, pretty much what we were expecting from my standpoint as a defensive lineman. They just outperformed us."

But while the changes on the field were subtle, it was by all reports a sea change in the Riders locker-room. "Everyone believed that we could win," said Riders offensive lineman Dan Goodspeed. "Maybe it was coach Miller or maybe we just got tired of losing or it was a wake-up call. When you get confidence like that, the sky is the limit.''

The question now is what all this does to the confidence of a Bombers club that has in so many ways been defined this season by the cocky attitude embodied in their self-styled moniker, Swaggerville.

Believing themselves to be the best, they have gone out and proven it for the first nine weeks of the season and emerge for the official start of the second half of the season this week with a league-leading 7-2 record and plenty to be proud of.

But they also emerge off a loss and facing the formidable prospect this week of taking on those same resurgent Riders in Sunday's annual Banjo Bowl at Canad Inns Stadium.

Are they chastened by the experience? Doesn't sound like it.

"SWAGNATION there is no panic we are fine," Bombers defensive back Jovon Johnson tweeted on Monday. "This is the CFL just a bad game for us it happens...they have to come to WINNIPEG!"

In a season where just about everything on the field since a loss in Week 3 has gone right for the Bombers, we will see soon how this club performs now that something has finally gone wrong.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2011 C1

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