Hope has returned to Winnipeg. Cynics would call it "faint" hope, but at least the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their fans have something to cling to with one third of the CFL schedule remaining. That's what one win can do in an 18-game season.
Blue Bombers head coach Tim Burke was careful not to get carried away with Friday's 34-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. However, when you have won just 2 of your previous 11 games in a tumultuous season, when the fans are up in arms over your recent performances, and when you are 0-3 as the interim head coach, any win is worth celebrating.
Especially one as thorough as the Bombers domination of the Ticats, Burke said "there was probably a bunch of different factors (in the win.).
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» Video: Winnipeg 34, Hamilton 12
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“I think the embarrassment of the week before (a 44-3 loss in Calgary) and obviously Buck Pierce playing in the game instilled confidence.
Then as the game goes along and you feel that the offence is in control, it creates even more confidence. I was really excited on the sideline when our offence was out there, our defensive guys were up and cheering and really telling them they were doing a great job, and I think that just feeds the confidence level for everybody."
Pierce had been out since tearing tendons in his foot in the 3rd game of the season in Edmonton. There can be no argument that his return brought a sense of calm and confidence to both the Winnipeg offence and defence.
Pierce showed no signs of rust, completing 21 of 31 passes for 288 yards and displaying the poise and patience that you would expect from an 8-year veteran.
Running back Chad Simpson added 134 yards rushing and 58 receiving in his most productive outing in a Blue and Gold uniform.
Burke had particular praise for two young members of the Blue Bomber defence as well.
Second year linebacker Henoc Muamba, the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL draft, "had probably the best game of his young career" according to Burke.
Muamba had 5 defensive tackles, a special teams tackle, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass knockdown.
Defensive end Alex Hall was the other notable in Burke’s books. A veteran of 2 NFL seasons, Hall recorded 5 tackles and 2 quarterback sacks. He now has 4 sacks in the last 2 games to move into a tie for the league lead with Keron Williams of B.C., each with 8 quarterback takedowns.
"People don't see what Alex is doing against the run. He has done a really good job", Burke continued.
The win over Hamilton was an appropriate reward for the 26,577 loyal fans who showed up at Canad Inns stadium on a completely miserable September 21st evening – 7 degrees Celsius with a north wind gusting from 40 to 60 kilometres per hour. And with 6 games left, despite the 3-9 record, the Bombers are just 2 points behind third place Hamilton in the East division. Just as important, they are only 2 games behind Edmonton in a possible cross-over scenario.
It's still a steep uphill climb for Winnipeg, the odds are very much against them making the playoffs but at least the Bombers have renewed "hope."
And without that, what else is there?
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