Chad Simpson and the Blue Bombers soared over the Argonauts Friday.
Friday's early game was billed as a duel of quarterbacks Buck Pierce and Ricky Ray, both returning to their teams after long injury-related absences, but it was actually mostly the ground game that led to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers pulling out a 44-32 victory over the Toronto Argonauts. Winnipeg picked up 260 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns on the day, and that enabled them to survive the aerial onslaught Ray (383 passing yards, four touchdowns, a 60.6 per cent completion rate) put up. This one went right down to the wire, though, and only a late defensive stand allowed the Bombers to come away with a win.
It's interesting that it was the Bombers' pass defence coming up big, as Ray had been casually destroying them all evening long. The Argos' line generally gave him enough time to set and throw, and he was dropping long passes into small target windows throughout the game. In particular, Ray's chemistry with fellow former Edmonton Eskimo Jason Barnes was on display, as Barnes (who only recently had been promoted from the practice roster) caught four passes for 71 yards and three touchdowns, but he also found Andre Durie six times for 128 yards and a touchdown and hit Chad Owens five times for 108 yards. Given Ray's dominance throughout the game, it looked like the Argonauts had a real shot to win when they got the ball back down five points with just over a minute to go. On their second play, though, Winnipeg defensive tackle J.T. Gilmore broke through the line and hammered Ray, forcing a fumble that fellow tackle Andre Carroll recovered. That allowed the Bombers to score a garbage-time touchdown and seal the win.
What put the defence in position to make that play was the ground game, though, and it was a multi-headed monster. Chad Simpson took the lead, rushing 20 times for 136 yards (6.8 yards per carry) and a spectacular touchdown that saw him hurdle a defender, but William Ford also collected 85 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries (8.5 yards per carry) and quarterback Alex Brink added 31 yards and two touchdowns of his own on 10 (mostly short-yardage, but not completely so) rushing plays. Pierce did enough through the air to prevent Toronto from completely selling out to stop the run, completing 13 of 22 passes (59.1 per cent) for 200 yards, but it was the ground game that paved the way for Winnipeg's victory.
What does this one mean? For the 5-11 Bombers, it keeps their slim playoff hopes alive. They're now tied with Hamilton for third in the East and win that tiebreaker thanks to claiming the season series. If the Tiger-Cats lose tomorrow, Winnipeg stays ahead of them. Of course, that doesn't guarantee a playoff spot, as the Edmonton Eskimos were still two wins ahead of them heading into Friday's late game against B.C. and would cross over if the standings remained the same, but the Bombers kept their postseason hopes alive at least a little longer thanks to this win. Meanwhile, the Argonauts' stumble means they can't grab the East's top playoff spot (Montreal's two games ahead and won the season series), and it also means they haven't even clinched a home playoff game (as they could still be caught for second by Winnipeg). This result's going to make a crowded East playoff picture even more interesting, and for that, we have the Bombers' rushing attack to thank.