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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Won hard and put away wet

It's not just the low-hanging fruit for Blue

Posted: 07/4/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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You know how whenever it seems too good to be true, that's because it usually is?

That 45-21 win by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers over the Toronto Argonauts on opening night of the 2014 CFL regular season last week seemed a bit like that, didn't it?

And because it did seem just a little too easy, a little too dominating, a little too, well, un-Bombers-like, there was more trepidation in the air at Investors Group Field Thursday night than you might have expected heading into a Week 2 contest against an expansion Ottawa Redblacks team playing their first regular-season game in franchise history.

That's because it was one thing to demolish an Argos team that shot themselves in the feet all night long last week.

The more important determinant of just how new and just how improved the 2014 Bombers really are was whether they could do it again against an opponent that didn't take 22 penalties and didn't repeatedly turn over the ball the way the Argos did.

The early returns last night were not positive if you were a Bombers fan. A Bombers offence that fired on all cylinders against the Argos -- and produced an offensive star of the week in QB Drew Willy -- sputtered in the early going against a Redblacks defence that looked pretty good for a band of castoffs, which is what they are.

Even more worrying in last night's early going was the performance of a Bombers defence that looked so masterful in shutting down a future Hall-of-Famer in Toronto QB Ricky Ray last week but appeared utterly helpless against another future Hall-of-Famer in Ottawa QB Henry Burris.

In what must surely be some kind of record for spectacular starts for new football franchises, Burris led the Redblacks to touchdowns on Ottawa's first three possessions, staking the Redblacks to a 21-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.

Just when it was all starting to look disturbingly familiar to a crowd of 27,553 fans that had seen this movie before -- over and over again by a Bombers team that won just nine games the last two seasons combined -- the Bombers dug deep and found a grit that had been conspicuously absent in recent years.

First, it was Bombers rookie tailback Nic Grigsby cementing his status as a keeper by scoring his second TD of the game midway through the second quarter to narrow the Ottawa lead to 21-14. Then it was rookie placekicker Lirim Hajrullahu looking like another solid off-season pickup, hitting from 47-yards as time ran out in the first half to make the score 21-17 heading into the locker-room.

But on a night when nothing came easy for Winnipeg -- in stark contrast to that Toronto game -- the Bombers had the entire left side of their offensive line helped off the field. Tackle Glenn January returned, but guard Chris Greaves never did.

And it showed as Willy took the kind of beating that used to be reserved for Buck Pierce -- some of it even legal and between the whistles. A late hit to the back of Willy's knees in the third quarter looked particularly egregious, but he stayed in the game.

In the end, it was a special-teams play -- fittingly enough on a team that has former special-teams players as head coach, GM and CEO -- that turned the tide for the Bombers, a 96-yard Demond Washington kickoff return for a TD in the fourth quarter that got the Bombers within two points.

That set the stage for the game-winning TD drive late in the fourth quarter that gave Grigsby his third TD of the game and Winnipeg's only lead of the game. It was, as the final whistle sounded moments later, the only lead the Bombers needed.

So what's the takeaway? The Bombers have now won the easy way and the Bombers have now won the hard way. And I'd argue it was last night's performance that was more impressive, precisely because it was so hard.

But most impressive of all? A Bombers franchise that won just three times in 2013 has already won twice in the first two weeks of 2014.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

 

  • Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers player Jovon Johnson, left, now playing with the Ottawa Redblacks, leads his team onto the field for the Redblacks' first-ever CFL game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

    JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers player Jovon Johnson, left, now playing with the Ottawa Redblacks, leads his team onto the field for the Redblacks' first-ever CFL game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg.

  • Ottawa Redblacks hit the field for their CFL game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Thursday.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Ottawa Redblacks hit the field for their CFL game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winnipeg on Thursday.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Demond Washington strips the ball from  Ottawa Redblacks' Kierre Johnson during the first half of Thursday's game.

    JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Demond Washington strips the ball from Ottawa Redblacks' Kierre Johnson during the first half of Thursday's game.

  • CFL commissioner Mark Cohon was in Winnipeg to see the Ottawa Redblacks' first-ever CFL game at  Investors Group Field against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Thursday night.

    JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    CFL commissioner Mark Cohon was in Winnipeg to see the Ottawa Redblacks' first-ever CFL game at Investors Group Field against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Thursday night.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers could only watch as Ottawa Redblacks' Dobson Collins dives in for a first-quarter touchdown during CFL action at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg Thursday night.

    JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers could only watch as Ottawa Redblacks' Dobson Collins dives in for a first-quarter touchdown during CFL action at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg Thursday night.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers Maurice Leggett ties it up with Ottawa Redblacks Chevon Walker during the first half of Thursday's game at Investors Group Field.

    Joe Bryksa / Winnipeg Free Press

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers Maurice Leggett ties it up with Ottawa Redblacks Chevon Walker during the first half of Thursday's game at Investors Group Field.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nick Moore is surrounded by Ottawa Redblacks' Eric Frazer, left, and Jerell Gavins in the end zone during first half of Winnipeg's game.

    Joe BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nick Moore is surrounded by Ottawa Redblacks' Eric Frazer, left, and Jerell Gavins in the end zone during first half of Winnipeg's game.

  • Ottawa Redblacks' Chevon Walker (29) breaks the tackle by Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Maurice Leggett (31) and runs the ball in for the touchdown during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg on Thursday.

    John Woods/ The Canadian Press

    Ottawa Redblacks' Chevon Walker (29) breaks the tackle by Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Maurice Leggett (31) and runs the ball in for the touchdown during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg on Thursday.

  • Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris (1) throws a touchdown pass to Chevon Walker (29) as Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Teague Sherman (27) attempts to knock it down during the first half of Thursday's game.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris (1) throws a touchdown pass to Chevon Walker (29) as Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Teague Sherman (27) attempts to knock it down during the first half of Thursday's game.

  • Ottawa Redblacks' Chevon Walker (29) runs the ball in for the team's first touchdown during the first half of Thursday's game against the Blue Bombers.

    CP

    Ottawa Redblacks' Chevon Walker (29) runs the ball in for the team's first touchdown during the first half of Thursday's game against the Blue Bombers.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Grigsby (32) disputes an out-of-bounds call in the Ottawa Redblacks' end zone during the first half Thursday's game.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Grigsby (32) disputes an out-of-bounds call in the Ottawa Redblacks' end zone during the first half Thursday's game.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy (5) gets sacked by Ottawa Redblacks' Jonathan Williams (75) during the first half Thursday's game.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy (5) gets sacked by Ottawa Redblacks' Jonathan Williams (75) during the first half Thursday's game.

  • Ottawa Redblacks' quarterback Henry Burris (1) gets set to throw against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of Thursday's game at Investors Group Field.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Ottawa Redblacks' quarterback Henry Burris (1) gets set to throw against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during the first half of Thursday's game at Investors Group Field.

  • Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris (1) calls for the ball deep in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' zone during the first half of Thursday's game.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris (1) calls for the ball deep in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' zone during the first half of Thursday's game.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Michel-Pierre Pontbriand (39) and Nic Grigsby (32) celebrate Grigsby's touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks during the first half Thursday's game.

    John Woods / The Canadian Press

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Michel-Pierre Pontbriand (39) and Nic Grigsby (32) celebrate Grigsby's touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks during the first half Thursday's game.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy takes a big hit from Ottawa Redblacks' Jonathan Williams during the second half of Thursday's game.

    JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Drew Willy takes a big hit from Ottawa Redblacks' Jonathan Williams during the second half of Thursday's game.

  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Grisby celebrates his team's fourth-quarter touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks during CFL game at Investors Group Field Thursday night. The Bombers won 36-28.

    JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

    Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Grisby celebrates his team's fourth-quarter touchdown against the Ottawa Redblacks during CFL game at Investors Group Field Thursday night. The Bombers won 36-28.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2014 C3

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