Tim Burke has asked one thing and only one thing from his Winnipeg Blue Bombers as they play out the final stretch of the 2013 season.
And that is to play hard and try to continue to improve. Heading into a Thursday night rematch with the Toronto Argonauts at Rogers Center in Toronto, Burke's players have delivered on his expectations.
Bombers have played two of their best games of the year the past two weeks, defeating the Alouettes 34-27 in Montreal, then losing a 26-20 heartbreaker to the Argos in which they held a significant edge in territorial play.
The Bombers rolled up 25 first downs to 15 for the Argos and 466 yards of offence to just 266 for Toronto. Max Hall had his best game of the season at quarterback for Winnipeg, completing 30 of 50 for 385 yards while his Toronto counterpart Ricky Ray was just 21 of 35 for 246 yards and looked frustrated and confused for much of the game.
Despite this apparent dominance, the Bombers still managed to find a way to lose, a trait they appear to have mastered this season. While most of the "numbers" in the game pointed to a Winnipeg win, there is one statistical category that tends to override all others and it's the one where the
Winnipeg committed 5 turnovers to just one for the Argos, continuing a tiresome repetitive theme in which the Bombers make life harder for themselves. It's how you lose a game that in just about every other way you should win.
The Bombers are now minus-25 in the takeaway-giveaway category while the Argos are an equally eye-popping plus-19.
Tim Burke has asked his team for a similar effort when they play the Argos again on Thursday night. He knows this game will be a particular challenge because the Argos can clinch first place in the East Division with a victory.
But, he says he'll be happy if they play hard again. Oh, and he wouldn't mind if the Bombers could somehow find a way to cut down on those debilitating giveaways. 57 of them in 16 games, an average of more than 3 per game. Virtually impossible to win games when you are being that charitable.
Bob Irving has covered the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for CJOB Radio in Winnipeg since 1973. Bob is the Sports Director at CJOB and is in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, reporters division. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobIrvingCJOB