Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–10–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Good ol' Ticats just the ticket

Latest pummelling of Bombers' punching bag provides faint hope

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There's nothing quite like a visit with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to make Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans feel better about their team.

Six times the two teams have met the past two seasons. And six times, the Ticats have left the encounter with their tails between their legs, including Friday night when they were soundly beaten 34-12 at Canad Inns Stadium by a Bombers squad that looked more like a 9-3 team than the 3-9 club they actually are.

Hamilton has that effect on the Bombers, for some reason. After going 4-0 against the Ticats in 2011, Winnipeg has beaten Hamilton twice in a row again this year in a season in which the Bombers only have three wins altogether.

And there is perhaps a note of caution in that fact for Bombers fans delirious with what they saw on defence and, yes, even offence Friday evening and wondering if this represents the beginning of the turnaround they've been waiting for all season.

Not so fast. The cold hard reality is that the only team in the CFL worse than the Bombers in the last six games has been the Ticats. While it's not exactly anything to brag about, the Bombers are 2-4 (with both wins coming against Hamilton) in that stretch, while the Ticats are just 1-5.

So yeah, there was a lot to like in what the Bombers put on display Friday. The defence was inspired, angry and mean. And the offence was controlled, measured and efficient.

But then the Bombers also looked pretty good -- and fans were similarly rejoicing -- after Winnipeg beat Hamilton 32-25 on Aug. 16. That game, of course, was the same one in which a chant of "Joey, Joey, Joey," broke out in the Canad Inns stands during the second half as QB Joey Elliott lit up the Ticats for 406 yards in passing and had the local faithful convinced the Winnipeg Football Club had finally found a capable replacement for Buck Pierce.

Yeah, not so much. Because no sooner did the Ticats leave town that night than the Bombers promptly went on a miserable four-game losing streak during which the club fired its head coach and lost two of those four games by margins of 44-3 and 52-0.

So yes, enjoy this joyful moment Bombers fans. There have been far too few of them this season and you have earned them with your loyalty.

But it might be wise to hold off on buying any ticker tape just yet.

While the Bombers now own the season series -- and corresponding tiebreaker -- over the Ticats regardless of what happens when the two teams meet one final time Oct. 27 at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the climb back into playoff contention remains a steep one for Winnipeg.

Bombers head coach Tim Burke said that he pointed out to his players during a meeting Saturday morning that their team plays East Division opponents five times in their final six games and thus "control their own destiny."

That's true, but only sort of. Yes, the Bombers face Toronto twice, including in their next game this coming Saturday at home; they face Montreal at home and on the road; and then there's that Hamilton game in late October. The only other game is a date at home against the Calgary Stampeders Oct. 13.

But with Winnipeg at 3-9, they could sweep their final six games and finish 9-9 and still not catch either second place Toronto, who are 6-5, or first place Montreal, who are 7-4.

And third place in the East might not be good enough to get into the playoffs this season, given that the two cellar dwellers in the West, Edmonton and Saskatchewan, are both two wins ahead of the Bombers at 5-6.

Put it together and the playoffs are still a long shot. But at least there's now a glimmer of hope, which is a lot more than anyone had for this team before Friday night.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 23, 2012 B3

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