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Bomber Report

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue pit of despair not bottomless

Team shows signs of life, and where there's life there's hope

Posted: 10/21/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Look on the bright side, Bombers fans: Receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who busted out for eight catches and 137 yards Saturday, is among a talented corps signed for next season.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Look on the bright side, Bombers fans: Receiver Mike Sims-Walker, who busted out for eight catches and 137 yards Saturday, is among a talented corps signed for next season. Photo Store

Yes, they lost. Again.

And yes, Saturday's 26-20 loss to the Toronto Argonauts at Investors Group Field dropped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a miserable 3-13 and officially eliminated them from playoff contention for the fourth time in five seasons.

There's no sugar-coating something like that. This team is bad -- and has been bad for a very long time now.

But that's not exactly news, is it? And seeing as this daily miracle you hold in your hands -- or, just as likely, control with a mouse -- is called a newspaper, how about we talk about something unexpected?

And that's this -- the 466 yards of net offence registered on Saturday by the much-maligned Bombers offence was the most by any team in the CFL over the weekend.

What's more, after failing to register 300 yards of offence in a game for seven straight weeks, the Bombers have now done it two games in a row and their combined 775 yards of offence over the last two weeks -- they had 309 yards in a win over Montreal two weeks ago -- is second best in the CFL during that period, behind only Calgary's 785 yards.

Yes, it's all too little and too late to make any difference this season. But this season hasn't been about this season for a very long time now and what's been happening on offence for the Bombers the last few weeks appears to be at least the beginnings of a foundation upon which the team can build for next year.

Let's start with the Bombers running game, where tailback Will Ford has been exceptional since the Bombers put Chad Simpson on the nine-game injured list three weeks ago and gave Ford the ball.

After struggling all season as a team to find any traction on the ground, Ford has rushed for 156, 93 and 76 yards in the last three weeks, while also proving himself an effective -- and sometimes spectacular -- kickoff returner.

And then there's been the much-improved Bombers receiving corps in recent weeks. Clarence Denmark has played his best football in his three seasons in Winnipeg during the past five weeks, hauling down an eye-popping 28 catches for 410 yards during that period.

Aaron Kelly, rescued from the CFL scrap heap after he was released by Hamilton, has looked great in a Bombers uniform and is definitely a keeper. And so too is former NFLer Mike Sims-Walker, who replaced an injured Kelly versus Toronto and did nothing less than lead the team with eight catches for 137 yards in his first CFL start.

That's three pretty good import receivers right there to begin building your aerial corps for 2014 -- and yes, they're all signed through next season. Add to that mix former all-star slotback Terrence Edwards and non-imports Cory Watson and Rory Kohlert and you've got the makings of maybe something special in 2014.

And that's not even taking into account Chris Matthews, whose 2013 season was basically an injury-riddled write-off, but who was nothing less than the CFL rookie of the year in 2012. Matthews is a free agent after this season and has said he'd like to sample the NFL waters. Whether any NFL teams would still be interested after the season Matthews posted remains to be seen.

And then there's this: With the acquisition of non-import offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld in the Alex Hall trade a couple of weeks ago, the Bombers might be able to start four non-imports on the offensive line next season, which would in turn give them the luxury of starting as many as four of those talented import receivers we've been talking about.

Intriguing, isn't it?

And then there's the quarterback situation. While Max Hall has unquestionably been improving -- he's 46-of-77 for 608 yards, three TDs and one INT in his last two games -- he's auditioning at this point to be Winnipeg's backup next season, not its starter.

And Winnipeg's search this off-season for a new starting quarterback makes things even more intriguing. What might a Bombers offence with Will Ford in the backfield and a bunch of fleet and sure-handed import receivers look like in 2014 with someone like Zach Collaros or Troy Smith or Josh Neiswander or Drew Tate or Henry Burris or Kevin Glenn at the controls?

Again -- intriguing, isn't it?

No, the Winnipeg Football Club probably doesn't need to order a pallet of ticker tape just yet. But as this debacle of a 2013 season finally and mercifully draws to a close, the Bombers have shown there's at least signs of some life in this corpse.

And where there's life, there's hope.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 21, 2013 C4

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