A big win, a major loss and a massive career milestone
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/08/2019 (1385 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Blue Bombers remain atop the CFL standings following a convincing 32-16 win over the B.C. LionsThursday night at IG Field.
The Bombers improved to 7-2 with the victory, and are now a perfect 5-0 at home and 4-0 against the West Division in 2019. As for the Lions, they dropped to 1-8 with the loss and, at the official midway mark of their season, are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
It was an important win for the Bombers. The Lions were desperate and the Bombers had proven vulnerable in recent weeks, including a pair of losses in their previous three games, one of which came against the then-winless Toronto Argonauts. So, there was some concern over another letdown.
Winnipeg will return to practice on Monday, ahead of their road date against the Edmonton Eskimos Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium. But before we look too far ahead, here are five takeaways from the win over the Lions.
Though Winnipeg left with a valuable two points, they might have suffered the greatest loss. No. 1 quarterback Matt Nichols suffered what looked to be a serious injury to his throwing arm after absorbing a crushing blow from recently acquired defensive end Shawn Lemon.
The play came late in the game, with about eight minutes remaining, and Nichols was in visible pain, favouring his right shoulder. Nichols jogged to the sideline, where he lasted about 30 seconds before retreating to the locker room. Had it not been serious, it’s likely he would have remained with his teammates.
Nichols was expected to have a magnetic resonance image (MRI) taken of his shoulder, and the Bombers are currently figuring out the different options for how to handle the injury. Unfortunately, this is nothing new to Nichols, who has played through pain on a number of occasions and through various injuries.
An formal update will be provided on Monday.
Perhaps the most telling sign that Nichols could be out long-term was how some of his teammates reacted in the locker room after the game. Rarely do players talk about the future when discussing an injured teammate, and yet many, unprompted, hoped Nichols was ok and proceeded to throw their support behind backup Chris Streveler.
Many fans have been clamouring for a chance to see Streveler get more playing time, at least those who believe despite a solid win-loss record as a starter in Winnipeg, Nichols isn’t the guy to lead this team to a Grey Cup. Well, Streveler, though he has shown promising signs during his brief time in the CFL, is not a better option than Nichols.
If that wasn’t obvious before Thursday, then what little we saw of Streveler against the Lions was enough to suggest that if Nichols is gone for a notable stretch it might be worth exploring outside options. The second-year pivot has excelled in short-yardage packages and his physicality in the run game certainly provides a much-needed wrinkle to the Bombers offence. Streveler might even be the future.
But his passing, speed in which he goes through his reads and decision-making are still very much a work in progress. Against the Lions, Streveler attempted just three passes, with his first a throwaway ball to the sidelines that was instead intercepted. It’s not that Streveler doesn’t have potential – he does – it’s that the Bombers are arguably in their best position to snap a lengthy championship drought and there just hasn’t been enough to suggest Streveler is the answer.
If Nichols is to miss notable time, there are a couple of experienced quarterbacks the Bombers could reach out to. Some names include Kevin Glenn, who is currently months into retirement, or Brandon Bridge, who was released by the Montreal Alouettes.
Needless to say, if Nichols is ruled out for some time it would be a major blow to the offence. It’s a good thing then that the Bombers defence and special teams are much improved from previous years. Both units will have to pick up the slack, something they’ve already been tasked to do many weeks this season.
On Thursday, the Lions were afraid to kick to returner Janarion Grant, who was coming off a stellar debut in a Week 9 win over the Calgary Stampeders where he tallied 306 return yards and two punt return touchdowns.
On the opening kick-off the Lions opted to kick short and away from Grant, giving the Bombers great field position at their own 44 (the drive ended with a touchdown). B.C. would do the same thing on a kick-off late in the second quarter, booting the ball to linebacker Thomas Miles. One of three punts by the Lions was kicked out of bounds.
.@msay1es4 blocks the punt and comes up with a touchdown! #CFLGameday pic.twitter.com/j29jbY1HI4
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) August 16, 2019
Then there was Marcus Sayles making a terrific special-teams play late in the third quarter that ultimately put the game out of reach. Sayles blocked a punt deep in the Lions’ end, before returning it nine yards for a touchdown and a 29-13 lead.
It was the third blocked kick from Sayles over the past two seasons. Sayles had 13 blocked kicks over four seasons with the West Georgia Wolves, where he was known as the “Block Specialist.”
What a change in mood in B.C. from the beginning of the season to now the midway-mark of the year. Many believed after a busy winter, including inking quarterback Mike Reilly to a four-year, $2.9-million deal, that the Lions were destined for a breakout season. That couldn’t be further from reality.
It’s not all on Reilly, of course, but he is the face of the franchise and many will now debate the merits of spending a large piece of the salary cap on one, albeit important, position. It doesn’t help that the Lion’ offensive line is atrocious, evident by the seven sacks the Bombers delivered on Thursday, adding to a league-worst total that has now swelled to 36 in nine games.
Credit also belongs to the Bombers defence, a unit that understood they needed to contain Reilly in the pocket. They did just that, sending extra defenders on various blitz packages that confused the 34-year-old pivot and left him running for his life.
In the end, Reilly and the Lions’ offence were limited to just 217 net yards, while the Bombers’ D also forced three pivotal turnovers that tipped momentum in the host’s favour. They’ll need to be just as good against Trevor Harris and the Eskimos next week. Heading into Friday’s action, Harris led the CFL with 2,631 passing yards, 480 more yard than Reilly in second place, with Harris having played one fewer game.
There have been plenty of positive moves made by the Bombers in recent years, but none have been more impactful that signing Andrew Harris in 2016. Harris has been a role model on and off the field, providing leadership among his teammates and in the greater Winnipeg community, where he grew up learning the game.
Harris, at 32 years old and in his 10th CFL season, reached an incredible milestone Thursday. His 73 rushing yards against the Lions were enough to make him the all-time leader in scrimmage yards by a Canadian, surpassing Ben Cahoon (13,368) with a combined total of 13,377.
The absolute best. Standing ovation for the local hero. #ForTheW pic.twitter.com/aDuDfyeND8
— WPG Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) August 16, 2019
The Winnipeg native was visibly emotional when he received a standing ovation mid-game. It’s been quite the journey for Harris, and one that doesn’t seem to be over anytime soon. He’s on pace to earn his third rushing title in as many years, with 819 yards and three touchdowns already through nine games. He has another 45 receptions for 322 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
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.
Updated on Friday, August 16, 2019 9:46 PM CDT: removes extraneous text