Bombers win a total team effort

Big Blue defeated Als thanks to contributions in all phases of the game

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MONTREAL – Another week, another win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who rallied late in Thursday’s game to down the Montreal Alouettes 35-20 at Molson Stadium.

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MONTREAL – Another week, another win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who rallied late in Thursday’s game to down the Montreal Alouettes 35-20 at Molson Stadium.

The Bombers, who improved to a perfect 9-0 with the victory, found the end zone three times over the final 15 minutes. The offensive outburst broke open a 14-14 tie through three quarters, with the win now creating a bit more wiggle room for the Blue and Gold at the top of the West Division.

The loss dropped the Alouettes to 2-6, putting them in danger of falling out of a tie for second place in the lowly East. Montreal is now 1-3 under general manager and interim head coach Danny Maciocia, the same record at the time of Khari Jones’s firing early last month.

Montreal will get a chance to redeem itself next week, when the Alouettes travel to Winnipeg for a Week 10 matchup at IG Field Thursday night. Winnipeg’s task of winning consecutive games will be a tall one; of the five previous home-and-home series between these two clubs, only once has a team earned the sweep, with the Alouettes claiming that feat back in 2003.

Janarion Grant celebrates his fourth-quarter touchdown against the Montreal Alouettes with Tyrell Ford on Thursday. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look back at Thursday’s win in the latest edition of 5 takeaways.

1) The Bombers entered the game as the obvious favourites, but it certainly didn’t play out that way for much of the evening. The Alouettes pushed Winnipeg right up until they broke loose in the fourth quarter and were arguably the better team through the first 45 minutes.

It’s difficult to say whether Montreal is a better team than their record suggests. While they were the more impressive club out of the gate, the Bombers showed up in Montreal a tired group, playing in their third straight road game and second over the past six days.

We’ve made a lot this year of the Bombers not being as dominant an outfit as compared to last season, when they captured the West with a month still remaining in the regular season and had a defence that put up historical numbers en route to winning back-to-back Grey Cups. But I’m starting to think this group might even be more resilient, and just as, if not more, talented when all things are considered.

Through the first nine games last season, the Bombers were 8-1, with their average margin of victory an eye-popping 16.25 points. This year, Winnipeg is 9-0, and have won by an average of nearly 10 points per game.

Rasheed Bailey is congratulated after his third quarter touchdown. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

What these numbers don’t tell is the Bombers had far fewer injuries in the first half of last season compared to this year, played two fewer road games and had a bye in Week 8. Needless to say, this is another incredibly special group.

2) Playing complimentary football is always important, but it’s particularly so during a rough patch in the schedule. The Bombers were able to win because they had all three phases contributing.

When the offence was struggling to protect the ball and move the chains early on, registering just two first downs and 13 net yards, it was the defence that stepped up, limiting the Als to a field goal in the first half, while also creating a turnover on downs early in the second quarter with Montreal just yards from the end zone. The offence would eventually find its groove after the Als turnover, orchestrating a 104-yard touchdown drive before adding another two TDs in the fourth.

Not to be outdone, special teams also made their presence felt, including Marc Liegghio pinning the Alouettes deep on several of his punts. No contribution in this department was greater, though, than Janarion Grant’s 57-yard punt-return touchdown in the fourth frame that ultimately sealed the win.

3) You know the Bombers are a solid bunch when their best players aren’t stealing the headlines.

That’s not a dig against the likes of Adam Bighill, Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat or Nic Demski, all of whom had relatively quiet nights. It’s a testament to this team’s depth, and the preparation every guy puts into each week.

Grant had three rushes for 43 yards to go with his touchdown; Ricky Walker and Jake Thomas had key quarterback sacks that stalled drives; Thiadric Hansen was a beast on the defensive line, too; Drew Wolitarsky led the team in receiving with five catches for 90 yards; Rasheed Bailey came up clutch drawing a pass interference penalty and scoring a touchdown; and Brady Oliveira combined for more than 100 yards on the ground and through the air.

Brady Oliveira combined for more than 100 yards on the ground and through the air. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

Having everyone buy-in and feel a part of winning is a beautiful thing, and the Bombers have it up and down their roster.

4) I asked Oliveira after the game where he felt his confidence was after putting forth another solid effort following a slow start to the season. Oliveira has always been confident in his abilities, ever since he first joined the Bombers in 2019, but you could tell his early struggles were weighing on him a bit.

Oliveira, who turns 25 later this month, noted he was getting more and more comfortable handling full-time duty in the backfield, before shifting his focus elsewhere. He credited the coaching staff and his teammates for believing in him and, most importantly, sticking with him when things weren’t going as well as they had all hoped.

Credit belongs to offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce, not just for sticking with Oliveira but not abandoning the run game, even at points in the season where it could have been justified. Well, Oliveira has started to reward that loyalty, and the expectation is he’ll only get better from here.

Oliveira looked possessed at times Thursday, finishing with 92 rushing yards and a TD on 17 carries and one catch for 35 yards.

5) One of the primary reasons for why Jones was fired was for a lack of discipline from the players, including a pair of ejections through the team’s first four games. Well, whatever message Maciocia thought he might have sent to his guys by removing their head coach — as well as defensive co-ordinator Barron Miles, who was also let go – it hasn’t been well received.

Zach Collaros finished the game 15-for-26 passing for 210 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. (Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press)

Through the first four games, the Alouettes were flagged 29 times for 275 yards. Over their last four, that number had swelled to 39 penalties totalling 467 yards.

Thursday saw the Alouettes’ best showing as far as total penalties and yards under Maciocia, with Montreal getting flagged seven times for 77 yards (Winnipeg had nine penalties for 51 yards). But that number is deceiving, as the Alouettes lack of discipline played a significant role in why they lost.

The PI penalty on Bailey accounted for 39 yards and led to Dalton Schoen’s touchdown. On the drive that ended with Bailey’s TD, a roughness penalty moved the Bombers into striking distance and when Montreal’s defence appeared to limit the damage by forcing a field goal, the Alouettes committed a pyramiding penalty on the play that led to a new set of downs and the eventual score.

Interesting tidbit: pyramiding, which is defined by the league as “the use of one player to elevate another to block a kick,” was increased from a five-yard to a 10-yard penalty in 2018. The infraction Thursday happened on a third-and-10, meaning had it been a few years ago, the Bombers would have almost positively declined the call and kept the three points.

Montreal’s ongoing issue with discipline will need to be cleaned up if the Alouettes have any chance of beating the Bombers at home next week.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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