WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Blue Bombers look to keep their playoff hopes alive this weekend, as they welcome the Toronto Argonauts to Investors Group Field for a Saturday matinee.
A defiant win over the Montreal Alouettes last weekend kept the Bombers’ season on the rails, as they trail the third-place Als by six points in the East Division standings. That means in order to get to the post-season, as the math suggest, the Blue and Gold need to win out and will also need some help from the remaining teams on Montreal’s schedule.
‘One game at a time’ is one of the ultimate clichès in sports, but that’s the only way this team can approach its remaining three games on the schedule.
“We basically take it one game at a time,” Head Coach Tim Burke told BlueBombers.com ahead of Saturday’s game. “The playoff picture was addressed a couple of weeks ago so they’re all aware of where we are in the playoff hunt.”
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“But we really take every game one game at a time and don’t try to look at the big picture but focus on the game that we’re playing this week.”
Last week the Bombers accomplished that flawlessly, putting forth their most complete effort of the season in a surprising 34-27 road win over the surging Alouettes.
Max Hall became the 17th starting quarterback to win a game this season, earning the first ‘W’ of his career with a 223-yard, two-touchdown effort. Meanwhile, the team moved past the loss of CFL sack-leader Alex Hall, traded to Saskatchewan last weekend, to stifle the Alouette offence and force four interceptions.
For at least one game, everything seemed well in Bomberland, and now they’ll look to keep things rolling against another team in need of an important win, the East Division-leading Argos.
While last weekend served as a test for the Bombers’ offence, this week their young defence will be put to the test against arguably the league’s most efficient offence.
“Offensively they’re very good,” said Burke in his analysis. “Now that [Ricky Ray]’s back, he’s a Hall of Fame quarterback so he definitely makes the offence go.”
“How do they stack up to the rest of the league? Right now I would rate Calgary as the best team in the league, I think they’re really solid all-around, and then I think it would be either Toronto or Hamilton.”
The Argos may have reeled off four straight wins without Ray in the lineup, but there’s no question that they present a different kind of challenge with their veteran signal-caller back under centre.
Despite throwing his first interception this season in 223 attempts last weekend, Ray looked every bit as comfortable as before he was forced out of action with an injury to his throwing shoulder, throwing for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26-34 passing.
He remains on pace to easily shatter the single-season records for completion percentage and quarterback rating, currently at 78.0 per cent and 130.4 respectively, while boasting a touchdowns to interceptions ratio of 17-1.
On the other side of the ball, though, it’s been a different story for the Argos, who have had trouble dealing with a roster that’s seen constant change. They sit near the bottom of the league in virtually every defensive category, meaning Saturday could present an opportunity for the Bombers to build on last week’s success.
“I haven’t really studied their defence enough to know how they’re playing, I know they’re giving up a lot of yards and it seems like their strategy has changed from a year ago and it seems like they’re playing more zone with four and five-man rushes as opposed to bringing an all-out blitz and disguising from there more,” said Burke of the Argo defence.
The Bombers hit a number of milestones on offence last weekend, ending a stretch of seven straight games with fewer than 300 yards while scoring a season-high four touchdowns. It was also Hall’s first start without throwing an interception, during which he put up a career-best 110.6 quarterback rating.
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Hall said he’s hoping for a repeat performance and another big win, as hanging in the balance in the final few games this season is not only the team’s playoff hopes, but players’ jobs heading into next season, particularly as key personnel decisions loom.
“We’re not out, obviously it’s going to be clichè to say take it one game at a time, but what we can control is this week and if we win this week we might have another chance next week to stay in the playoffs,” said Hall when asked what’s left to play for.
“But having said that, we’re all still playing to keep our jobs, number one,” he continued. “And number two, I also think it is a pride thing, we want to go out there and play well. We get another chance to go out there in front of our fans, who pay good money to watch us play, so we want to give them a show and beat a really good team if we can.”
While the Argos are a little more comfortable with their position in the East Division, you wouldn’t know it if you read any of the headlines in the morning papers.
The team followed a record-breaking stretch of four straight wins on the road with back-to-back losses to the Ticats, and suddenly find themselves needing a win to stay in first place.
Another slow start plagued the Boatmen in last weekend’s 24-18 loss at Guelph’s Alumni Stadium, as they trailed 16-1 until late in the second quarter before Ray finally provided a spark with a touchdown pass to Spencer Watt.
The slow starts have been a recurring theme for the Argos, who scored just two first-quarter points over the last three games and have trailed after the opening 15 minutes through four straight games. On the season they’ve been outscored 242-194 in first halves, while battling back in the second half with an edge of 231-152.
Last Monday, however, the comeback kids weren't able to storm back from a first-half deficit for the second straight week, and as a result sit just two points above the Ticats for top spot and a shot at the first-round bye.
|The last time they met|
Friday, July 19, 2013
Toronto 35, Winnipeg 19
Ricky Ray had three touchdowns and completed 19 of 20 passes, as the Toronto Argonauts cruised to an impressive 35-19 road win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Investors Group Field.
“Certainly we would like to play and start games faster,” Head Coach Scott Milanovich told Argonauts.ca. “I am sure it’s not an emotional thing, the locker room was electric before the game, the guys were excited to play in a magnitude game like this and again they just executed better than us and got that touchdown and took momentum early.”
Ray looked strong in his return, but penalties and turnovers proved costly from the get-go, which Milanovich said his team will have to avoid if it hopes to correct its first-half issues.
“We got to a point where it seemed like they had the ball quite a bit because of that safety, that fluke little thing through the end-zone,” said Milanovich. “So they had the ball for quite a bit and they kind of took the momentum there after we missed the field goal, and were not really able to get going back offensively until the very end when we had the turnover and we were able to put it in.”
Yet even though the Argos have lost two straight, Milanovich isn’t completely down on his team heading into this all-important final three-game stretch.
The second-year head coach, who won Coach of the Year honours last season after guiding the Boatmen to a win in the 100th Grey Cup, said his team will continue to work towards improving and that sometimes you just have to give your opponent some credit.
“I think it’s back to what we’ve done in training camp and through the first six weeks that Ricky was so successful with,” Milanovich continued.
“It seems like everyone wants to think that we’re in a funk and not give Hamilton the credit they deserve, that’s a good football team and they’re picking up towards the end of the season and really starting to play their best football.”
In any case, Saturday’s contest will feature two teams eager to play football. The Bombers because they’re young and learning and constantly improving, and the Argos because they just don’t like to lose.
“We’re anxious to get back out there that’s for sure,” said Milanovich. “You hate stewing on a loss for 10 days, so I guess from that aspect it’s good to kind of get back after it and get out there on the field.”
Kickoff is at 3:30 P.M. ET, and can be seen on TSN or followed live via Game Tracker on CFL.ca and CFL Mobile.
- With files from BlueBombers.com/Argonauts.ca