It would be easy to see the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' last-second 20-17 loss to B.C. Friday as a crushing one for the team. After all, the loss drops them to a league-worst 2-6 record, and losing in front of a passionate crowd of your home fans is never fun. There are obviously major concerns for the Bombers, who didn't score a point in the first half and managed just 17 on the night, below even the CFL-low 22.1 points per game they'd been averaging. However, CFL success is about more than just individual wins and losses, and the quality of a team's performance in a specific game can sometimes have more to do with how they'll do down the road. Winnipeg went from a less-than-overwhelming win last week against a slumping Hamilton team to a solid performance against league-leading B.C., and while this result may not have helped them in the standings, how well the Bombers played against a tough team Friday may prove to be a crucial building block for them going forward.
There's a lot for Winnipeg to be happy about in the wake of Friday's game, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Bombers' defence had been anything but great before this point, allowing 32 points per game (second-worst in the league, behind only Hamilton), 420 total offensive yards per contest (again second-worst behind the Tiger-Cats) and 11 yards per passing attempt (worst in the CFL). Yet, against B.C., the Bombers' defence looked quite impressive, holding the Lions to just 20 points and 220 passing yards. They also forced four turnovers off of three interceptions (by Johnny Sears, Deon Washington and Marcellus Bowman) and a forced fumble (by Henoc Muamba), which should certainly improve their poor giveaway/takeaway ratio (-2 heading into this week's action, third-worst in the league). This effort looked more like the dominance Winnipeg was known for last year rather than the anemic showings they've mustered on defence this season.
It wasn't just the defence that did well, either. Yes, the offence only picked up 17 points, but that came against an incredible B.C. defence that had allowed 10 or fewer points in their previous three games, something that hadn't been done since 1963. Against a team like that, scoring 17 is quite impressive. While the Bombers struggled to run the ball against B.C.'s defensive front (Chad Simpson finished with just 39 yards on 11 carries), they did a decent job of moving the sticks through the air. Winnipeg QB Joey Elliott may not have thrown for 400 yards the way he did against Hamilton, but he looked pretty decent under centre for a guy starting just his second game of the year; his 20 completions on 42 attempts could use improvement, and throwing an interception's never great, but Elliott threw for 256 yards and outdueled the Lions' Travis Lulay. He and the rest of the Bombers' offence looked particularly solid down the stretch, too; they may not have scored before the half, but they put up 17 points in the final two quarters.
Does that mean all's well in Winnipeg? Of course not. A 2-6 start isn't great by any means, and there are still major issues with this team. The offensive line could still use work, especially in the ground game, and the Bombers will have to be able to establish the run to find sustained success. Despite his great showing last week and his decent performance Friday, Elliott hasn't proven himself beyond criticism either, so it's not a foregone conclusion that the team will stick with him once Buck Pierce returns. Moreover, one stellar defensive performance doesn't necessarily override all the lacklustre data Winnipeg's piled up on that side of the ball this season. Still, this was a more impressive all-around effort than the team had turned in for some time, especially considering the opposition, and a loss on a last-second field goal doesn't negate that. The Bombers still have a long way to go to turn things around this year, but if they can build on what they showed Friday, success isn't out of the question.
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