August 6, 2014

Irving: Bombers have a chance to prove they’re for real

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers probably don’t look at it this way, but when they meet the Saskatchewan Roughriders Thursday night at Investors Group Field, it will be yet another test of their legitimacy. 

You see, there are still people – quite a few of them as a matter of fact – who aren’t convinced that the Bombers record of 5-1 is an accurate reflection of just how good they are.

A resounding 45-21 season-opening win over Toronto, followed by come-from-behind victories over Ottawa and Montreal had most folks believing that the 2014 edition of the Bombers might be onto something.  

But a 26-3 humbling at the hands of the Edmonton Eskimos at home raised doubts. The Bombers answered those questions by going into BC Place and blasting the Lions 23-6. And then last week, quarterback Drew Willy authored his second dramatic last-minute game-winning drive of the season as the Bombers beat the Hamilton Tiger Cats 27-26.

Still, there are doubters. And I guess that’s what happens when you are coming off a dreadful 3-15 season that was preceded by an almost nearly as dreadful 6-12 season.
Rookie head coach Mike O’Shea doesn’t like to talk about what happened in Winnipeg last year, or to compare this year’s success to last year’s travails. He also doesn’t like to talk about his teams record.  

He prefers to focus on each week of the season as separate one-game entities. But don’t suggest to O’Shea that the Bombers are “lucky” to be 5-1 or have escaped “by the skin of their teeth” a couple of times.  He says the Bombers deserve what has come their way in the first six games, and that the players have developed a togetherness that has them believing that all things are possible.  

Not that there isn’t room for improvement. O’Shea says that while there are plenty of mistakes that need to be corrected from week-to-week, it is much easier to make those corrections in a positive way when you are winning.  

And while O’Shea insists that the Bombers success is a product of a tremendous “team” effort, it’s impossible to examine the Bombers first six games without shining a spotlight on Willy. The former Saskatchewan backup quarterback has been everything and more the Bombers hoped he would be when they acquired his rights just prior to free agency and signed him to a contract during the winter. 

Willy has thrown for 1,662 yards(second in the CFL), has a completion percentage of 65.5 (second in the CFL), and has a quarterback rating of 95.8 (3rd in the CFL). Beyond that, Willy has brought a level of preparedness, professionalism, poise and quiet confidence that his teammates are feeding off.  

Success in football can come in many different ways. Still, it’s a given that without productive quarterback play you are likely doomed.   Look no further than the Montreal Alouettes for proof of that theory.  

Drew Willy has given the Bombers the kind of quarterback production that is essential to winning.  

So, just how good are these rejuventated, revitalized Winnipeg Blue Bombers? I’m not sure.

But I do know they are a legitimate 5-1, and they don’t need to make any apologies for how they manufactured those five victories. Yes, four of the five wins have come against Eastern teams, who are clearly not playing at the same level as the Western clubs at this point. 

The next month will provide much more reliable information on just where the Bombers stand because three of their next five games are against the defending Grey Cup champion Roughriders starting Thursday night when the first sellout crowd of the season is expected at Investors Group Field.