Tiger-Cats won't underestimate Blue Bombers

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:11 AM ET

Through the course of a season a team invariably comes up against an opponent that is a complete mess.

They’re losing, their effort is being openly questioned, the fans are calling for jobs to be on the line — in short, a mess.

That aptly describes the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at this point in the year.

The team is 2-9 and chances are that if general manager Joe Mack tried to walk down Portage Avenue by himself at a particular hour of the night and happened to be recognized the team might not have to worry about firing him at the conclusion of the season. He might decide his own safety is more important.

That is how angry the local Blue Bombers fan base is right now.

But this isn’t about the anger that lurks in the hearts of Manitobans right now, as appropriate or justified that anger might be.

No, this is about the team those Bombers will face Friday night, a team that still has a legitimate shot at a playoff berth if it can refrain from shooting itself in the foot, a tendency they have become all too familiar with this season.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are coming off its most complete effort on a football field in almost two months.

They didn’t just send the Edmonton Eskimos packing last weekend at Ivor Wynne, they sent them home wondering how they missed the 18-wheeler that ran roughshod over them.

This isn’t the first time though the Ticats have shown this kind of dominance this year.

It was back in Week 4 and the visiting Montreal Alouettes were on the receiving end of a similar punking.

Henry Burris threw for 360 yards and four touchdowns while the Hamilton defence forced two turnovers and limited the dangerous Brandon Whitaker to just 31 yards on seven carries in a 39-24 win that suggested the days of the Als dominating the Eastern Conference were coming to an end and much better things ahead for the Tiger-Cats.

Week 5 saw the Ticats follow that big win up with a huge come-from-behind 35-34 win over Saskatchewan and it looked very much like the 2012 season might even live up to all that pre-season hype in the Hammer.

Then the hammer dropped.

Maybe it was the poor timing of a bye week just when they got rolling, but for whatever reason the Ticats next action was a step back of humongous proportions in Week 7.

A 31-20 loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the friendly Ivor Wynne confines knocked the Tabbies on their collective ears.

Jon Cornish found more holes in the Hamilton defence in a 14-0 fourth quarter for the Stamps than one would find in a Rob Ford re-election campaign.

And it went downhill from there. Losses to Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto, all in games in which the Tabbies seemed very much in charge for the bulk of the game had to have the Ticats playing mind games with themselves.

The only legitimate beating they have taken since that loss to Calgary back on Aug. 9 was a 45-31 thrashing on the back-end of the home-and home Labour Day series with the Argos.

The Edmonton game appears to have put that five-game stretch to bed finally, but it will mean nothing if the Tabbies go into Winnipeg and get bested.

The Ticats know that can happen on any given week in the CFL. It truly is a year when anyone can beat anyone — such is the parity in the league.

The difference this time is the Ticats have already learned that lesson.

It was the second game of that five game losing skid when the Tabbies, as they did Thursday, boarded a plane to Winnipeg thinking a gimme awaited them.

Buck Pierce was out and the Bombers, after seeing little from backup Alex Brink, were going with third-string quarterback Joey Elliott.

Money in the bank, right?

But then Elliott, in just his third start of his CFL career went out and threw for 406 yards and Burris suddenly couldn’t secure the football. Elliott’s stellar play and six turnovers by the Ticats turned that gimme into a gotcha.

Only this past weekend did the hurting finally end.

There will be no sense of superiority going into Winnipeg this time around.

This is a team that has been humbled and more importantly learned some very hard lessons.

This time around Pierce is returning to the fold after an eight-game absence, but it says here that even had the Bombers started fourth stringer Justin Goltz, there would be no worry of anyone in Black and Gold looking past an opponent.

The Ticats have been there, done that and they didn’t like the result.

These Ticats may yet find a way to shoot themselves in the foot one more time, there’s still six games to play after this weekend, but it won’t be because they’re looking past an opponent.

For that reason alone, we suggest Joe Mack start going through his closets and coming up with a disguise or two. We don’t see his popularity in Winnipeg growing any time soon.

WHAT'S AT STAKE?

For the Bombers

A win moves them two points behind the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for third place in the CFL East.

Edmonton, which sits fourth in the West, play in B.C. A loss there would move Hamilton to within two games of Edmonton which could wind up crossing over from the west and taking final playoff spot in the East.

For the Ticats

A win puts them three games up on Winnipeg with six games left. In the context of a potential crossover from the West, a Ticats win and an Edmonton loss vs. B.C. would give Hamilton the same record as Edmonton.


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