December 10, 2019

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Fans feeling blue about collapse, but Bomber defenders maintain all is not lost

If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defence finds itself on the field at the end of a game trying to protect a one-score lead again, you better believe their fans will be feeling uneasy.

And honestly, who could blame them?

Saturday's meltdown in Montreal was the third time this season the Blue and Gold defence failed to prevent a game-winning score seconds before the final whistle.

With just over a minute left in Saturday's contest at Molson Stadium, Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. marched his team 94 yards down the field on six plays to cap off the improbable comeback and steal a 38-37 win. Adams found Jake Wieneke open in the middle of the end zone for a 15-yard score with six seconds left on the clock. The Bombers were leading 37-17 after three quarters.

"It sucks that it's happened a few times," Jeff Hecht said Tuesday morning. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It sucks that it's happened a few times," Jeff Hecht said Tuesday morning. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)

You could argue — and rightfully so — the defence should have never been put in a position where it had to make a stop to win the game. The Bombers offence didn't do the defenders any favours in the final 30 minutes as it could only muster three points in the second half. Kicker Justin Medlock also wasn't at his best for the Bombers as he missed an extra point and a field goal (to be fair, it was a 53-yarder) in the loss.

But it becomes harder to forgive and forget when this isn't the first time this has happened. If this were baseball, you could charge the Bombers defence with three blown saves this season. It happened on the road in Week 8 — a 28-27 loss to a winless Toronto Argonauts team. It happened in the Labour Day Classic — a crushing 19-17 defeat at the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. And it happened again on Saturday.

Bombers safety Jeff Hecht, who had a pass deflection land into the hands of Wieneke on Saturday with 49 seconds left to keep Montreal's game-winning drive alive, said these last-minute losses shouldn't overshadow the times the defence has made big plays at the end of games.

Bombers defensive back Winston Rose said the defensive players still have a bad taste in their mouth from Saturday. (Daniel Crump / Free Press files)

Bombers defensive back Winston Rose said the defensive players still have a bad taste in their mouth from Saturday. (Daniel Crump / Free Press files)

"It sucks that it's happened a few times," Hecht said after Tuesday's practice. "We've also been in similar situations where we've been up by two scores late and we've been able to handily walk to the end of the game with our two-score lead. Those ones are just sticking out as losses. More often than not we've won those games. We're 9-4, right? So, we just need to figure out why those two or three now, that are kind of looking a little similar, if there's some common denominators there that we can correct or eliminate. But we have a lot of similar games where our offence does a great job of chewing up the clock and our defence goes out and gets some pressure and we get them to punt, or turnover or whatever it is."

Bombers defensive back Winston Rose, who leads the CFL with eight interceptions, said the defensive players still have a bad taste in their mouth from Saturday. But he believes the three heartbreaking losses shouldn't be grouped together.

"I wouldn't say they're similar because, if you look at it, the last drive (in Montreal) we had at least two or three chances to change the whole outcome of it," Rose said. "So, it's one of them things where we got to capitalize on their mistakes and just add more fuel to the fire. I feel like we, as a defence, was busting plays just (by) not being focused. At the end of the day, we just got to be more focused for all four quarters, all 60 minutes, and then the rest will handle itself."

"It was a collapse, but there's a lot of good things that we did in the fourth quarter despite the collapse," said Richie Hall. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

"It was a collapse, but there's a lot of good things that we did in the fourth quarter despite the collapse," said Richie Hall. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

Defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall also faced scruntiny from the media on Tuesday. Like Rose, he also believes the team lost focus at the end. He said the loss to Saskatchewan stung more, but this one definitely didn't feel good either. Hall did find some positives in Saturday's defeat.

"It was a collapse, but there's a lot of good things that we did in the fourth quarter despite the collapse. We drop two picks, possibly pick-sixes. I mean, those kind of situations are frustrating but we just got to make plays and take advantage of our opportunities because opportunities are there," Hall said.

Even with the loss, the Bombers clinched a playoff spot on the weekend and are tied with the Calgary Stampeders for first place in the West Division with a 9-4 record. Hecht said the Bombers need to quickly put the Montreal game behind them and prepare for Friday's home matchup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"A few of our losses have been maybe what you characterize as ugly losses," Hecht admitted. "And every time you kind of sit back, myself as a CFL fan, and then go — 'If through 13 games, if you're going to be tied for first place, would you take it?' — I think every GM and head coach in the league would take that situation, right? We're in a good spot. We control our own destiny. We have five very important games coming up. As bad as it was, we're not 4-9. We're on the inside looking out right now and we need to keep it that way."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

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.

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