Bombers’ narrow defeat could be crucial kick in pants

Nobody’s perfect. Not even the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/08/2022 (228 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Nobody’s perfect. Not even the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Thursday’s stunning 20-17 loss to the Montreal Alouettes at raucous IG Field will no doubt leave a bitter taste in the collective mouth of the football club as well as its fans. The march toward history ended with a thud. Or, more appropriately, a shank off the foot of kicker Marc “Uh, Oh” Liegghio that would have wrapped up a 10th consecutive victory in regulation time, followed by a clank off the uprights that would have extended overtime.

Of course, there was plenty of other blame to go around. The normally calm, cool and collected Zach Collaros, under siege all night, coughed up a costly fumble in the waning minutes just when it looked like the Blue & Gold were driving for the kill shot. Then the Bombers vaunted defence went offside at the worst possible time, giving the underdog visitors a new lease on life.

Like we said, nobody’s perfect. And it turns out you really can’t win ‘em all. But that’s actually a very good thing for head coach Mike O’Shea’s crew. In fact, it says here this could ultimately make them an even more dangerous outfit than they already were as they attempt to capture a third Grey Cup in a row and cement their legacy as a dynasty.

About three weeks ago I was chatting with a CFL employee who said something that made me literally laugh out loud: “The Bombers really need to lose a game here soon,” he declared.

Say what?

As he went on to explain, a little adversity along the way would actually help the cause, especially as the games take on bigger meaning down the stretch.

The Winnipeg squad appeared to have other ideas, routinely coming out on top even when it wasn’t at its best. Last week in Montreal, for example, the Bombers played a lousy first quarter on the road, had five Collaros turnovers (three in the air, two on the ground), somehow entered the final 15 minutes tied …and ended up winning 35-20.

It was honestly starting to look too easy.

It was honestly starting to look too easy. Almost automatic, especially in the fourth quarter where they had outscored opponents by a ridiculous margin of 80-38, suggesting they definitely have been saving their best for last. And it looked like that trend was going to continue in the rematch with the Als, which was deadlocked 10-10 through 45 minutes.

The final frame began in predictable fashion. A Collaros scramble for 11 yards. A Collaros pass to Greg Ellingson for 25 yards. A Collaros strike to Drew Wolitarsky for 12 yards. And a Brady Oliveira run for 19 yards into the end zone. Four plays covering 67 yards in 107 seconds. Ho-hum.

We’d seen this movie plenty of times before. And it wasn’t going to end well for the Alouettes. Game, set, match, right? Wrong.

In an unexpected plot twist, a club that could do no wrong suddenly couldn’t do anything right, and the chance to match a franchise-best 10-0 start (from 1960) or perhaps take a run at the CFL’s all-time record of 12 consecutive wins to start a campaign (Calgary in 1948) came up painfully short. And, if we’re being specific, wide left.

And so they’re left with a blemish, one that will probably sting even more with an extra week to ruminate over what went wrong. The Bombers finally get their first bye after an absurd start to the 2022 season, one that has seen them criss-cross the country with the busiest schedule in the three-down loop, often having to play with very little rest or practise time between games.

Despite that challenge, including plenty of injuries that were piling up, Winnipeg never let it become an excuse. Or a distraction. Which speaks to the incredible culture that has been built in the locker room, one that starts at the very top with the likes of Wade Miller, Kyle Walters and O’Shea and trickles down to hard-nosed veteran players like Collaros, Adam Bighill and Willie Jefferson who refused to let complacency become a thing.

As a quick aside, O’Shea is currently in the final year of his three-year contract, and it’s curious that a renewal hasn’t been announced. I suspect it’s nothing for locals to panic about, but something to keep an eye on. We know Edmonton previously tried to poach the bench boss last year without success, and every other CFL team would benefit from having him calling the shots. That said, I wouldn’t bet on him going anywhere. Whereas some might view his current status as being a “lame duck”, this is more about everyone in the organization being hyper-focused on the task at hand.

Every sports franchise strives to achieve what the Bombers have created. Very few actually accomplish it.

Every sports franchise strives to achieve what the Bombers have created. Very few actually accomplish it. Winnipeg’s crew should be commended. Enjoy the next week away from the gridiron, fellas. You deserve it.

But when they re-convene, I suspect we’re going to see a rather surly bunch, one with a Bison-sized chip on the collective shoulders based on how their most recent outing ended. And that’s a very bad thing for the rest of the league.

Sure, running the table would be nice. But just ask the 2007 New England Patriots how that worked out for them. They became the first NFL team to go 16-0 in the regular season, only to have their historical run end in crushing fashion with a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

Better to identify potential problems now — clearly Winnipeg’s kicking game is a source of concern — than when it matters most.

A reminder that the Bombers lost seven games in 2019 and went on to win it all. They had three setbacks last year before going back to back. Gone are the days when fans are simply hoping the Bombers can get into the playoffs and maybe make some noise. Now it’s all about how they perform on the biggest stage, meaning the games in November matter a whole lot more than ones in August.

Had the Bombers headed into this break 10-0, my biggest concern was how rest might lead to some rust. Now I expect they will be running on all cylinders for the stretch drive, especially with the Montreal meltdown now in the back of their minds. Nothing will be taken for granted or assumed.

A little short-term pain might, ultimately, lead to long-term gain.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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