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This article was published 7/7/2019 (393 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA – With Friday’s 29-14 win over the Ottawa Redblacks at TD Place, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers became the lone CFL club to remain undefeated this year. It’s just the third time since the Grey Cup-winning 1988 season that the Bombers have opened 3-0, with victories also coming against the B.C. Lions and Edmonton Eskimos in recent weeks.
The Bombers dominated the Redblacks (2-1) for much of the night. It was an impressive performance, given Ottawa had also burst out of the gate strong, beginning the 2019 campaign with victories over the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Though there’s still plenty of football to play this year, Winnipeg has clearly entrenched themselves, at least for now, as the team to beat.
"We’ve been trying to send a message all year," receiver Nic Demski said. "We’ve only played three games, but that’s what we want to do, that’s our goal, to win every game, every week."
The Bombers will get the chance to extend their streak to four games when they welcome the lowly Toronto Argonauts (0-3) to town Friday. But before we look too far ahead, here are five takeaways from the win over the Redblacks:
1) The Bombers offence hoped to be more consistent against the Redblacks after struggling to stay on the field in a Week 3 win over the Eskimos. Despite putting up four touchdowns for the second straight week, Winnipeg was dominated by Edmonton in number of offensive plays (77 to 41), first downs (29 to 14) and time of possession (36:20 to 23:40).
That script was flipped against Ottawa, as Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice drew up an impressive game plan. The offence sustained lengthy drives, while finding the end zone four more times. They put up 26 first downs, possessed the ball a full 18 minutes more than Ottawa (39:01 to 20:59) and finished with a season-high 441 yards.
Matt Nichols, who was 16-for-20 for a season-high 262 passing yards and one touchdown, was afforded plenty of space in the pocket thanks to an impressive evening by the offensive line. The O-line also created holes for running back Andrew Harris to march 80 yards on 18 carries (Harris added another 50 yards on six catches).
Winnipeg continues to dominate in the red zone. They finished with three touchdowns in four trips Friday, putting them at 9-for-11 on the year.
The Bombers were dealt a bit of a scare when Nichols was forced to leave the game late in the third quarter after taking contact to his head following a slide on a run up the middle. He didn’t return, making room for Chris Streveler to fill in. Having already tossed for one touchdown and rushing for another, Streveler played well in relief. He finished the game 6-for-8 for 42 yards, with a lone interception being his only misstep.
Speaking with the media after the game, Nichols said he felt great, but didn’t confirm whether he was cleared to play next week against Toronto. Receiver Chris Matthews was also ruled out of the game, leaving early in the second quarter with a suspected hand injury. Both are expected to undergo further evaluation, with their statuses to be updated early this week.
2) I’ll admit, like many, I was curious how the Bombers defence would fare without their leader on defence in Adam Bighill, the CFL’s reigning most outstanding defensive player. Bighill was ruled out of the game last week with a lower-body injury, seemingly creating a major hole to fill in the middle of the defence.
Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the defence didn’t miss a beat. Kyrie Wilson played well in relief of Bighill, and the combination of Jesse Briggs along with Nick Temple filled in admirably at weak-side linebacker. For a second straight game, the defence kept their opponent out of the end zone; their streak of consecutive quarters without surrendering an offensive touchdown has now reached nine.
The pressure by Winnipeg’s defensive line created a constant nightmare for Redblacks quarterback Dominique Davis. Willie Jefferson had easily his best game of the season, exposing Canadian Mark Korte, who had impressed many in his first two games in his first season as the starting left tackle. It didn’t help that the Redblacks were also forced to shuffle the O-line following the loss of right tackle Jason Lauzon-Séguin, who left minutes into the game with heat exhaustion.
In total, Ottawa put up just 236 yards of net offence, and were completely shut down after a third-quarter rally. A pair of turnovers — a fumble recovery by Winston Rose, who also had an interception earlier in the game, followed by a pick from Chandler Fenner — helped secure the win. It was fitting that Jefferson, ultimately, put the game to bed with his first sack of the season.
3) It’s not often Justin Medlock speaks after a game. As one of the most consistent kickers in the CFL, with more good games than bad, he rarely warrants a deeper dive into his night’s work.
But Medlock had one of his rare off-nights. He missed two field goals early in the game, clanging a 51-yard attempt off the left upright before hitting another, this time from 43 yards, wide right. Medlock missed a total of five field goals all of last season, clicking at an 89 per cent success rate.
Visibly distraught, his lip quivering slightly, Medlock faced reporters Friday and vowed to be better. The last time the Bombers kicker was that upset was the last time he missed two field goals in a game. That was back on Oct. 21, 2017, when he finished 2-for-4, including missing a 40-yarder with time expired that ultimately sealed a 29-28 road loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
Medlock would make up for his gaffes in a big way, later on. With the Bombers clinging to a 22-14 lead early in the fourth quarter, and forced to punt, Medlock launched a kick inside the Redblacks’ 5. Noticing that Redblacks returner Ryan Lankford, a former Bomber, was hesitating to pick it up, he sped down the field and got a piece of the ball before it travelled out of bounds. The Bombers took over possession and two plays later, Streveler punched the ball in to make it a two-score game.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, not one to point out a single moment, highlighted the play as the game’s turning point. Medlock was less celebratory, his mistakes weighing on him much more.
"That’s my job," he said. "Go get the ball."
4) O’Shea has been much better at throwing challenge flags this year. He entered Friday’s game a perfect 2-for-2 after going just 1-for-7 in 2018.
But many were scratching their heads when O’Shea threw the yellow cloth from his back pocket on a play — a fumble by Charles Nelson that led to a 32-yard defensive touchdown by Jonathan Rose — that had already been reviewed and upheld by the CFL’s command centre. After all, scoring plays are already reviewed.
Here was O’Shea’s lengthy explanation:
"I’ll say this: they’re going to rule it, if it’s clear and obvious at full speed, with what they have to look at. So, based on my conversations with the CFL officiating group, they might have one (angle). In essence, throwing a challenge flag, while calling a timeout, gives them more opportunity to possibly see more angles. I do not know how many angles they get to see; we’re not privy to that, so I don’t know. So they could just look at one at full speed, which they’re going to look at it full speed and move on.
"It’s a little bit of a risk, but I also understand, or what I’ve been told is that sometimes they might have one angle. And if I can buy them more time, it might turn their opinion. And it’s a big play, right? So I’m going to try to give them as much time as possible, to look at as many angles as possible."
The logic is understandable. It was a big play that stole all the momentum from Winnipeg and any chance to reverse it would have "saved" the Bombers from being in a tight game. Where the issue is, is that if successful, it would have opened up some major criticism against the league’s command centre, since it had already been confirmed a fumble and touchdown after review. I have a hard time thinking the CFL would have created more trouble for itself by doing that, making it almost an inevitable outcome.
5) It would be very remiss of me not to mention a couple other standout performances.
Demski had another strong game, scoring an 82-yard touchdown on the Bombers second play of the night. It was the second TD in as many weeks for Demski, who, much like last year, is having another strong start to the year. He finished with a team-high 105 receiving yards on four catches. It was surprising to hear that it was his first game cracking the 100-yard mark in five seasons in the CFL.
The other nod goes to the work of special-teamer Mike Miller. Miller was a wrecking ball all night, recording seven special-teams tackles. That ties a league record with six other players. Just a small note: Miller told me last year he hoped the Bombers would ink him to an extension this winter, the East Coaster then confessing how much he enjoys being in Winnipeg. The impression I got was he didn’t know one way or another, but the Bombers never doubted bringing him back. He’s a key piece to this team, and will be through the 2020 season.
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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