December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
For a lower-tier team, any opening will be taken, any straw will be grasped and any positive sign will be reinforced.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will be doing all of those things this week while they enjoy a bye in the CFL schedule, and with fair reason.
They're a 1-5 team after losing 27-20 Monday to the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, but their game presented some heart and some determination and, unlike at least two of the games in their current four-game losing streak, they did not just go away at the first sign of adversity.
The Bombers coaxed a better, more-like-them game from their defence on Monday, and even pinned and pressured hard in the second half, gave up just 10 points in those 30 minutes.
And it created, as the coach had asked, a key turnover in the first half to wrestle some momentum from B.C., a department where the Bombers had been blatantly lacking in their previous three games.
The team's secondary, under intense scrutiny from head coach Tim Burke over a number of weeks was unable to completely shut off Lions quarterback Travis Lulay but it was anything but the pushover it had been in previous losses to Toronto and Calgary.
So all of that is something to build on, the Bombers will insist.
"We've still got hope," defensive back Jovon Johnson said Tuesday upon returning to Winnipeg. "That's obvious. We went out (Monday) and played pretty well, especially defensively. We did a much better job of communicating, guys were on the same page flying around and having fun.
"We kept the offence in the game and that's all we can ask for."
But there's the mental tug-of-war the team will have to deal with until next they play -- Aug. 16 at home against Hamilton. How are they going to handle the serious fizzle its offence suffered in the second half against the Lions?
The game was 17-17 inside the final 11 minutes, but points were pretty much a dream because they couldn't move the ball.
Quarterback Justin Goltz, in his second CFL start, had reason not to like his own game Monday. He guided his team to just 51 yards of offence in the second half.
-- Bombers offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton
(The three points Winnipeg did come up with in the fourth quarter were thanks largely to a 27-yard pass interference penalty on B.C.)
The final tally of yards for the Bombers was 207 yards of net offence, with Goltz a weak 13 for 28 after starting out the game seven for nine.
Head coach Tim Burke found himself in position to defend Goltz on Tuesday.
"He's going to learn more and more every game so I think we're close to getting over the top," Burke said. "Part of the problem we had (in Monday's second half) was we were always backed up, defending our own end zone. It's hard to call offensive plays in that position.
"It's partly him growing as a quarterback. It's partially just our whole offence. We need a mindset to just come out in the third quarter and get going.
"But I don't think it's necessarily Justin as the reason."
The Bombers sounded like they want to look ahead, not back, on Tuesday.
"We're averaging 21 points a game but we've got to average in the 30s," said offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton. "That's the teams that are getting the most wins, they're in that area.
"I don't feel the team's giving up at all. We've fought right to the end in both these last two games."
Added Burke: "If we continue to play like that, get a bit better, I think we're at the point where we can win some games. We played well on defence most of the night, our special teams had more good moments than bad. Offensively we had some good moments but we have to be consistent for four quarters and that's what we have yet to get."
The bye week will give the lineup a chance to heal a little more, at least until practice resumes next Monday.
"The bye week is to get healthy more than anything," said guard Chris Greaves. "It allows guys to refocus things as well."
-- with files from Gary Lawless
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2013 D1
Updated on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 6:48 AM CDT: