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This article was published 2/10/2014 (2579 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- It’s been 42 days since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers celebrated a victory, even longer for the Ottawa Redblacks.
And so as the two teams prepare to face each other Friday night (6 p.m.; TSN/CJOB) in the first game of Week 15 of the Canadian Football League schedule, there’s an obvious level of desperation at play – not that you’d get anybody to make that kind of public confession.
The Bombers, 6-7, have lost four straight and six of their last seven to tumble out of the playoff picture. The Redblacks, 1-11, have lost nine in a row.
"Last week we ended up losing and so did B.C. So if you’re looking at it that way or watching the scoreboards around the league, there’s a bunch of different scenarios that could play out," said Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea while standing on the sidelines of picturesque TD Place in the nation’s capital. "The only thing we can control is how we play, our effort and our focus.
"Whatever everybody else does, we can’t worry about. It clouds your mind. There’s too many other things to think about other than what you need to do to win this game."
That’s all well and good, but if the Bombers have designs on being a player in the Grey Cup derby next month, then a matchup with the CFL’s worst squad couldn’t have been better timed. Winnipeg is two points back of the B.C. Lions, 7-6 and fourth in the West Division, for what would be a crossover playoff berth.
O’Shea waved off the suggestion he’d have to guard his troops about over-confidence. And it’s easy to see why: the Bombers four-game losing skid has exposed enough problems to deal with and attempt to fix, regardless of the opponent.
"That’s not an issue with this team because we haven’t fared as well as we’d like in the last few games. I really don’t believe that’s an issue," said O’Shea. "We’re not riding high on anything right now. We’re searching for that type of game that allows us to win, that type of focus that will limit the amount of mistakes, we’re searching for a way to lower our penalty totals. We’re going to get that figured out, so I don’t think you’re going to run into a problem with this group."
The Bombers have made three changes to their 46-man roster, moving defensive back Bruce Johnson into the starting lineup again and adding RB/KR Sam McGuffie and offensive lineman Gord Hinse. Meanwhile, kick returner Troy Stoudemire, punter Mike Renaud and linebacker Mike Cornell were all placed on the six-game injured list.
Winnipeg did not practice in Ottawa upon arrival Thursday and the day off probably helped quarterback Drew Willy more than any other player. Willy took a pounding in last week’s loss to Hamilton and had already been working with a bum shoulder. He skipped practice on Tuesday, but was sharp on Wednesday.
"Another day of rest so it can only get better from that. It’s just something I’m going to have to play through for the rest of the year," said Willy. "That’s what I’ve been told by the doctors. I’ll just keep going and try to push through. It’s just kind of a nagging thing that will only go away with rest."
Willy leads the CFL with 3,280 yards passing, but the Bombers could use a more-consistent ground game and a significant decrease in turnovers and penalties if they are to stop their current streak. A loss Friday, regardless of how they spin things, would be devastating.
"We’re just looking to win the game any way possible," said Willy, who will have his stepdad and little brother, who live in New Jersey, in attendance. "We know we’re coming into a good atmosphere that’s going to be fun to play in. From my point of view, their defence has been playing well so I know we’re going to have a challenge. We need to be mentally sharp. I thought we had a really good day of practice (Wednesday) so the guys are feeling confident they can make plays
"We want to stay in the hunt. We know this is important. They’re all important, but the way things are stacking up it’s definitely an important game."
The Redblacks, meanwhile, have scored only four touchdowns at TD Field and want to give what is expected to be another near-capacity crowd something – anything – to cheer about.
"We’re hanging in there but it is tough," said Redblacks head coach Rick Campbell. "It’s tough to lose games and it’s tough to lose close games. We think we have a lot of the right parts to our team here and the guys hae the right attitude but we know we have to work hard and get better as fast as we can and start winning some of these close games."
"Although we’ve been losing some close games, we feel we’re very close," added former Bomber defensive back Jovon Johnson. "Some things just aren’t built in one season. You’ve got to build them over time. In Winnipeg, in 2010, we went through a similar thing and the next year we went to the Grey Cup, so anything is possible in this league.
"We’re very close. We’re right there. We’re having fun on defence. Teams aren’t scoring touchdowns on us and they have to beat us by kicking field goals. We just continue to get better each week."