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This article was published 22/10/2018 (356 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers received little help from other teams over the weekend when it came to punching their ticket to the postseason. Still, with two games left on the schedule, Winnipeg remains in full control of its destiny, requiring nothing from its counterparts across the league to aid their pursuit of a Grey Cup.
Simply put, it’s exactly what the Blue and Gold expected when they returned to work Monday after what’s been a wild ride in 2018.
"You can never count on anyone in this league to do you any favours. The last three or four weeks, there have been five or six games that if they had gone a little bit differently we’re probably already in the playoffs," Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols said following a two-hour practice at Investors Group Field. "That just shows you that you can’t count on other people to do it for you. For us to control our own destiny, that’s what you want."
Despite being idle the past seven days after serving the final of three bye weeks this season, the Bombers remain in third place in the West Division at 9-7.
'You can never count on anyone in this league to do you any favours. The last three or four weeks, there have been five or six games that if they had gone a little bit differently we’re probably already in the playoffs' - quarterback Matt Nichols
A win at home over the Calgary Stampeders Friday will be enough to secure a playoff berth, either in third or fourth place in the West. A loss, however, and the Bombers will face a do-or-die matchup in Edmonton against the Eskimos in the regular-season finale Nov. 3. If that happens, the winner of that game will earn the last and final playoff spot, crossing over to the East.
"The West has really been crazy this year and I don’t know if I’ve seen such a photo finish coming into the end," Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said. "It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s why we play the game. We put the pressure on ourselves to make it happen so the goal is to put in the work right now throughout the week so we get what we want come Friday."
It’s not exactly a position the Bombers prefer to be in. If possible, they’d trade positions with Calgary (12-4), Saskatchewan (11-6) and B.C. (9-7), all of which have clinched its spot in the postseason.
But Winnipeg has shown a comfort this season in having their backs against the wall. After being outside the playoff line in early September, boasting a 5-7 record following four straight losses, the Bombers find themselves on a four-game winning streak and in the driver’s seat to ride into the playoffs on a high.
With last week spent away from the field, giving the players a chance to nurse any lingering bumps and bruises, they’re also as healthy as they’ve been all season. Many find it a good place to be, even if it doesn’t have the kind of security they’re looking for and that they could get with a win this week.
"We have a certain confidence and momentum and I know just today at practice, the vibe and the energy, guys are excited to get back after it," Bombers running back Andrew Harris said. "It’s at the point of the season when teams are usually beat up and that’s thing we have on our side right now, we’re healthy and we’re ready to go. Friday can’t come soon enough."
The Stampeders have been the CFL’s most dominant team over the past decade, including making it to the Grey Cup five times over the last 10 years, winning twice. They’ve been particularly good over that stretch against the Bombers, who haven’t beat the Stampeders in a meaningful game – one where Calgary hasn’t already wrapped up a playoff spot – in many years.
'It’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s why we play the game. We put the pressure on ourselves to make it happen so the goal is to put in the work right now throughout the week so we get what we want come Friday' - linebacker Adam Bighill
Oh, and Nichols is 0-8 against Calgary over his career, making the Stampeders the only team he hasn’t defeated in the CFL.
"They’ve dealt with their share of injuries just like pretty much every team across the league. They’re going through theirs right now but in normal Calgary fashion they are finding guys that are stepping in and making plays," Nichols said. "They’re still a really good football team. It’s going to be a tough one. Especially on defence they are a very veteran group back there, very well coached and they make it tough on you every play.
The Bombers might have caught the Stampeders at the perfect time. Not only has Calgary lost their last two games, falling to B.C. and then again to Saskatchewan last week, they’re also banged up. Four of their top receivers – Kamar Jorden, DaVaris Daniels, Marken Michel and Reggie Begelton – are all out of the lineup, on the six-game injured list and won’t be available Friday.
Contrary to Nichols’ praise of the Stampeders, the Roughriders were able to expose what has been a stellar defence for Calgary. Zach Collaros played his best game in a Roughriders jersey in the 29-24 win, throwing for 352 yards on 24-for-35 passing. Though Collaros didn’t throw a touchdown, the Roughriders punched in two rushing scores, racking up a 140 of their 469 yards of net offence on the ground.
'We have a certain confidence and momentum and I know just today at practice, the vibe and the energy, guys are excited to get back after it' - Bombers running back Andrew Harris
"It’s the point of the year where we’re always going to do our thing. I think we’re done stealing stuff from other games" Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said when asked if there were any lessons to be taken from Calgary’s most recent loss.
"I don’t know that Calgary’s injuries are bothering them that much. Whatever it is, they’re a good football team. They always have good depth. They’re always ready to play. Their players are prepared and they always work hard through the entire play, through the entire game so our guys better be ready to play."
The Lions share an identical record with the Bombers but a victory over the Eskimos (8-9) Saturday was enough to clinch a playoff berth because of how the schedule wraps up over the next two weeks, with divisional opponents facing off against each other. To complicate things further, the Roughriders still have a chance to catch up to the Stampeders for first place in the West, which ensures a first-round bye and a home game for the divisional final. But a win by the Stampeders over the Bombers would prevent that from happening, while also putting the Bombers future in jeopardy.
"It’s good, competitive football and on any day either team can win. We’ve seen games where its forecast one outcome and it’s a different outcome," O’Shea said. "If you focus on your preparation, and when the time comes you make the plays that you’re supposed to make, at the end of the day it nets out to one play either way and usually that teams wins."
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.