Topsy-turvy was the word I used to describe this one in my game-analysis column this evening as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers pulled out a 32-25 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday night in a game that was pivotal to pulling themselves out of the 1-5 abyss.
Quite simply, this game had a little bit of everything but at the end of the day, QB Joey Elliott moved the chains and made enough big plays when he had to (505 yards of total offence), helping the Blue and Gold move to 2-5 and remain in the mix in an East Division where nobody has really done much to separate from the pack.
It was an impressive outing for Elliott, who focused on the short pass during the first half but stretched the field a bit in the second as he became more and more comfortable.
Moxie was a word used to describe Elliott this week and he showed that trait at various points in the contest. He didn’t look rattled really and that helped him bring the Blue Bombers back from an early deficit.
After all, the Ticats did score on their opening possession and were threatening to build a 14-1 lead late in the first quarter.
But that’s when Blue Bombers DE Alex Hall intervened with a hustle play that may have prevented their season from going off the rails.
Nobody knows for sure, but if Ticats QB Henry Burris strolls into the end zone and gets that extra yard rather than having the ball stripped by Hall and end up in the hands of the Blue Bombers, how do you think they would have reacted to the early deficit?
To this point in the season, the Blue Bombers haven’t reacted overly well to that type of adversity.
But instead of being down and possibly out, a rally took place and the Blue Bombers chipped away, to the point they were down just 14-7 at the half.
The third quarter is when Elliott turned it up and by the time Chad Simpson strolled in from five yards (With 1:29 left in the quarter), this game was tied 17-17.
The Blue Bombers went up 24-17 after Chris Matthews pulled in a 12-yard TD and Justin Palardy added an 80-yard single to put them up by eight.
Game over, right?
Not exactly, as Burris connected with Williams on an 84-yard TD and then found Aaron Kelly in the end zone to complete the two-point convert and even the score once more.
Just when you thought another big-play against might sink the Blue Bombers, Elliott put together a 92-yard drive that was capped by backup RB Will Ford’s four-yard run into the end zone.
This time, the defence made it stand up and the Blue Bombers hung on for the victory.
Here are a few other things that stood out in the contest:
* Elliott was 33-of-43 for 406 yards, representing the first time since Michael Bishop turned the trick in 2009 that a Blue Bomber pivot had eclipsed 400 yards in a game. Perhaps the most important stat was the zero under the turnover column, as Elliott had a few bad reads that could have led to picks (three by our count). Having said that, Elliott was calm under pressure and looked good. Not surprisingly, head coach Paul LaPolice confirmed that Elliott had earned another start next week against the B.C. Lions (as one person pointed out to me on Twitter after the game, there might be a riot if Elliott didn’t start the next game).
* The Blue Bombers offensive line had a strong outing. I dealt with this subject in my post-game sidebar but it’s worth noting again that Elliott wasn’t running for his life and the O-line also opened up holes that allowed the Blue Bombers to run the ball more and get close to the century mark, finishing with 99 yards.
* Chad Simpson looks good, but is banged up and will continue to deal with that foot injury for the foreseeable future. He had 18 carries for 86 yards before he was replaced late in the fourth quarter by Ford, who did an excellent job in relief, running the ball four times for nine yards. Simpson added six catches for 33 yards and was an all-around threat.
* Alex Hall continues to get better and better. His NFL skills are shining through, on the pass rush and in the open field. Hall forced a pair of fumbles, had a sack and is playing like a beast right now.
* It was an odd day for the defence, with plenty of shining moments but a few more monumental breakdowns, a trend that must change. Consistency just isn’t there right now. But at the end of the day, the Blue Bombers D created five of the six turnovers (three Henry Burris fumbles and two stops on 3rd down – Williams also fumbled during a lengthy return).
* One area the Blue Bombers thoroughly improved upon was their run defence. After having some trouble containing Brandon Whitaker of the Alouettes on two occasions, there was plenty of talk the Ticats might try to use Chevon Walker in similar fashion but the speedster was kept under wraps, rushing just seven times for 17 yards (he added one catch for seven yards) before leaving with a lower-body injury that occurred during the second quarter (Walker didn’t play at all during the second half).
* Such an odd game for Burris, who looked awesome at times and struggled at others, especially when pressured. Burris finished 17-of-25 for 368 yards with two TDs and no picks, but he fumbled four times and lost three of them.
* Same can be said for Williams, who had three dynamic TDs – a 37-yard reception, a 73-yard punt return that he basically created out of nothing and then an 84-yarder that helped even the score at 25 late in the 4th quarter. His speed is a treat to behold and he’s not afraid to leave defenders in his shadow. However, his fumble nullified another great run.
* Full credit to the Blue Bombers for picking themselves up off the mat, but it doesn’t get any easier as the B.C. Lions come to town next Friday. If they find a way to earn another victory, the Blue and Gold will end their four-game homestand with a record of 3-1. A loss leaves them at 2-2 and basically treading water heading into their home-and-home series with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
* The record string of nine consecutive sellouts in the regular season and 10 overall (including the 2011 East Final) came to an end on Thursday, but a crowd of 27,039 is nothing to scoff at. I’m interested to see where the number will be for the Lions game. They’re a fun team to watch and feature Winnipegger Andrew Harris, who is off to a fantastic start to his season.
Let us know what stood out about Thursday’s game when Paul Friesen and I host the weekly Blue Bombers live chat at 2 p.m. CT on Friday afternoon at winnipegsun.com/bluelive
Attendance was down a bit last week, let’s get the discussion going.