TORONTO — Just when you thought it might be time to call for the Last Rites, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers found a way to rise from the ashes.
Thanks to a 44-32 triumph over the Toronto Argonauts on Friday night at Rogers Centre, the Blue Bombers managed to remain a player in the CFL playoff picture.
The Blue Bombers still need to post victories over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats next week at Ivor Wynne Stadium and the Montreal Alouettes at Canad Inns Stadium during the final week of the season and need some serious help from outside forces in order to accomplish their goal, but as the CFL has shown over the years, anything is possible.
We’ll get to the nuts and bolts of the scenarios at the bottom of this post, but for now, here are a few things that stood out about Friday’s literal “must-win” game for the Blue and Gold:
a) The running game was dynamic – The cries to give Chad Simpson more carries have been prevalent and on Friday, he had 20 for 136 yards as he passed the 1,000-yard mark. But Simpson wasn’t the only one running wild. Backup Will Ford showed some serious speed and had 10 carries for 85 yards and also broke a short pass for a 55-yard gain. That’s a one-two punch the Blue Bombers haven’t shown up to that point, but it’s something you’ll probably seen a lot of during the final two weeks.
b) Wildcat lives – Although Justin Goltz wasn’t dressed, Alex Brink assumed the role of QB in the Wildcat package that was used with more regularity. Brink was used a lot in short yardage situations, but also came in a few times for a change of pace, finishing the game with 10 rushes for 31 yards. He also hit DE Jason Vega for a 4-yard TD pass on the opening drive to get the Blue Bombers on the board.
c) Quick start – After the Argos made the unusual decision to defer to the second half in a domed stadium after winning the coin toss, the Blue Bombers used a 17-play, 89-yard drive to score first. Falling behind has been a huge issue for the Blue Bombers this season (they’ve still been outscored 120-45) and putting together a drive lasting 8:46 and ending with a little trick play gave them a big boost.
d) Pierce battles through – For those still looking for a reason the Blue Bombers would consider keeping Buck Pierce as their starter during the 2013 season – given his checkered injury history – got another glimpse of his value. Pierce survived a couple of big hits and once again, showed he’s the unquestioned leader of this team, finishing his day 13-of-20 for 200 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
e) Turnover battle won – The Blue Bombers have been on the losing end of the plus/minus ratio too often this season, but by forcing three turnovers (all fumbles) while protecting the ball themselves, they found a way. Argos weapon Chad Owens had two of the fumbles and could have had a third but the Argos ran the next play before the Bombers had time to see the replay and challenge the play. The third fumble was an impressive strip sack by DT JT Gilmore, who showed great effort to lunge at QB Ricky Ray and knock the ball out of his hand with the game still in question late in the fourth quarter.
f) Work in progress – Once again, the Blue Bomber defence – especially the secondary – had some issues against Ray, who tossed four TD passes, including three in the second quarter to turn a lead into a 21-17 deficit. Jason Barnes caught three of them and Andre Durie burned new SAM LB Demond Washington on another but interim head coach Tim Burke thought that overall Washington handled the transition to a new position pretty well.
Here’s the Blue Bombers potential road to the playoffs as laid out by CFL statistician Steve Daniel:
* Bombers need to win their next two games to get to 7-11
* If Argos lose out and the Ticats go 2-1 over their final three games, that would leave all three teams at 7-11 and Winnipeg would claim second as they have the best winning percentage in games played against the three teams. Under that scenario, the Blue Bombers would be 4-2, the Argos 4-3 and the Ticats 2-5.
* If the Edmonton Eskimos, who were blown out by the BC Lions on Friday night, lose out, they would also finish at 7-11 and not qualify for the crossover (assuming the Bombers and/or Ticats get to 7-11) – meaning two of the Blue Bombers, Ticats and Argos would get into the playoffs.
* So as of right now, the Blue Bombers could still finish second or third in the East – if they win out and get help.
* The Montreal Alouettes clinched first place in the East and a bye to the East final on Friday night when the Argos lost.
Confused yet? We’ll update the scenarios as we know more.
What we know for sure is that the Blue Bombers will be rooting for Henry Burris and the Ticats this week as they face the Calgary Stampeders.