It’s official: Blue Bombers have gone to the Dark Side

Defence stars again in a perfectly brilliant performance Saturday night

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There’s no such thing as a perfect game in football.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/10/2021 (400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s no such thing as a perfect game in football.

Regardless of the outcome, there’s always things teams want to do better the next time they’re on the gridiron.

But on Saturday night at IG Field, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had as close to a perfect game as you’ll ever see.

Their offence, defence, and special teams all scored touchdowns in a 45-0 beatdown of the B.C. Lions (4-6) to improve to 10-1 on the year and clinch the West Division crown.

Their performance was so impressive that it was almost an afterthought that the victory means the Bombers will host a division final for the first time since 2011 when they won the East. It’s the first time Winnipeg will be the site of a West Division final since 1972.

“All it is is a ticket to play in that game. We’ve still got some football left to be played, obviously, and our goals are still ahead of us,” quarterback Zach Collaros told reporters.

“So, you know, it’s nothing that we really set out to do or ever talked about, you know in training camp or the weeks leading up to this. We’re just trusting our process and going 1-0 each week.”

But the Dec. 5 division final is still quite a few weeks away, so before we talk about that, let’s revisit Saturday night with five takeaways from a game that no one will soon forget.

 

CP Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Deatrick Nichols (32) knocks the ball away from B.C. Lions' Lemar Durant (1) as he attempts the catch during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, October 23, 2021. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

So…now what?

Don’t get it wrong, life’s good in Bomberland, but being 10-1 and securing the West Division with three regular season games left on the schedule does present some challenges.

The Bombers will have to find a way to keep everyone sharp, and at the same time, not put their star players at risk of getting hurt in meaningless games.

Now that’s a tough juggling routine. Luckily for head coach Mike O’Shea, he’ll have some time to think about it as the Bombers are heading into a bye week and don’t play again until Nov. 6 when they play the Montreal Alouettes at home.

We’ve seen dominant teams in the past take their foot off the gas at the end of the regular season and struggle to get their mojo back in the playoffs. The 2011 Green Bay Packers come to mind as they went 15-1 and rested their starters in Week 17, including their MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and then fizzled out in the Divisional Round to a 9-7 New York Giants team by a score of 37-20.

An example that hits closer to home is the 2001 Bombers who had eight CFL all-stars, including quarterback Khari Jones who won that year’s Most Outstanding Player award. The Blue and Gold went 14-4 and claimed the top spot in the East Division with three regular season games left to go.

Those Bombers gave some reps to their backups and lost their final two regular season games. Not that anyone around these parts need to be reminded, but they went on to have a dreadful performance in the Grey Cup and got upset by the 8-10 Calgary Stampeders.

Those are just two horror stories to keep in mind, but that still doesn’t make the decision easy. An injury to a star player, especially you know who, in these final three weeks would be devastating.

 

CP Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea looks on as his team plays the B.C. Lions during the first half. (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

Big problems in B.C.

Have the BC Lions hit rock bottom?

“I hope so,” said quarterback Michael Reilly when asked postgame. “I mean, if it gets worse than this, that’s obviously not a good thing. So I can’t answer that because time will tell, but hopefully it is.”

It wasn’t too long ago when the Leos were being talked about as a potential threat to the Bombers in the West. But now after losing four straight to fall to 4-6 on the year, the Lions are on thin ice and will miss the postseason for a second straight year if they don’t turn things around down the stretch. The Calgary Stampeders, who lost 20-17 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday night, currently hold the third and final playoff spot in the division with a 5-6 record. The Lions and Stamps are 1-1 against each other this season and will meet again in Week 15 to decide the potential tiebreaker.

If BC can’t squeak into the big dance, it’d be the third year in a row that a team led by Reilly didn’t qualify as he failed to get Edmonton into the playoffs in his final season there in 2018.

Reilly is 36 years old and the highest paid player in the league. With his price tag and age, Reilly might not be the best option for the Lions moving forward.

 

CP B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly is hoping Saturday's loss was the Lions hitting rock bottom and it can only get better (hopefully). (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

The Dark Side

This Bombers defence, that refers to themselves as “The Dark Side,” is something else.

We knew that prior to Saturday’s butt-kicking, but their performance was their best of the season. It was only the second time the Bombers held their opponent to zero points since 2006. The last time it happened was Oct. 13, 2018 when the Bombers blanked the Riders 31-0 at home.

“We’re relentless, disciplined and we play as a team. We play together as one, not as 12 individuals,” said defensive end Willie Jefferson, who had a pick-six in the third quarter.

“We stick to our process. We liked our preparation coming into this game, coming into any game. The film study that we put in, as a defence, the time and the effort that we put into getting things right in practice, and then just the extra stuff that we do as whole. It all comes together when we come out and play football like this.”

The Bombers have only given up six points in the fourth quarter all season (yes, you read that right) and surrender an average of 11.5 points per game.

To put that into perspective, remember “Swaggerville” back in 2011? That defence, that led the Bombers to the East Division title, gave up an average of 24 points per contest.

 

Don’t forget Darvin

CP The Bombers have only given up six points in the fourth quarter all season and surrendered an average of 11.5 points per game. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

After a forgettable three-week stretch where Darvin Adams had only four catches for 40 yards, there were a lot of people who were questioning whether or not the 31-year-old receiver had much left in the tank.

Well, Adams sure silenced his critics on Saturday as he led the team in receiving yards with 93 on four catches. He had one of the plays of the game in the first quarter where he had a 52-yard catch and run before his former teammate, Lions defensive back Marcus Sayles, chased him down to prevent the touchdown.

“I don’t think that anybody’s been worried about Darvin and I think Darvin hasn’t been really worried about it and I certainly haven’t,” said Collaros postgame.

“I know what kind of receiver he is. I know what kind of playmaker he is and what kind of teammate he is.”

With Nic Demski, Kenny Lawler, and Rasheed Bailey in the fold, Adams is no longer the go-to receiving threat, but the eight-year CFL veteran can still make big plays.

 

Collaros for MOP

CP Even with a solid stable of wide receivers like Rasheed Bailey (88), do not dismiss Darvin Adams who led the teams with 93 receiving yards on Saturday. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

The 2021 Most Outstanding Player has to be Collaros, right?

He isn’t putting up record-breaking numbers or anything, but Collaros has been incredibly efficient this season. Arguably one of his best traits is his ability to get everyone involved on offence. Yes, Lawler has been his top target, but Collaros has also helped Demski and Bailey have career years as well.

In a season that has seen so many quarterbacks get hurt and offensive numbers down across the league, it’s not the most competitive year for the award. But regardless of his competition, Collaros is absolutely worthy of being the first Bomber to win it since Milt Stegall did in 2002.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

CP Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros has been incredibly efficient this season. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

History

Updated on Monday, October 25, 2021 5:28 PM CDT: Corrects year of the last time Bombers recorded a shutout.

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