Nitty-gritty time

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

CALGARY -- The forecast today in Cowtown calls for snow.

First reaction? Not cool.

Second reaction? The CFL season is officially entering its nitty-gritty stage.

The nip in the air is a strong indication that every game from here on out is a huge one, and that will be especially true tonight when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (6-6) take on the Calgary Stampeders (7-5) at McMahon Stadium.

Both the Bombers and Stamps have shown flashes of brilliance and moments of ineptitude this season. It's time to pick one or the other and stick with it the rest of the way.

"The funny thing is, after the first 12 games what we've accomplished is: We're still in it. We're still in the thick of things," Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown said. "And the last six actually define whether you're a contender or a pretender."

A win tonight would propel the Bombers into a first-place tie with the Montreal Alouettes (7-4) and Toronto Argonauts (7-5) atop the East Division, but both of those teams have games in hand and the Als play the B.C. Lions tomorrow.

And despite being eight points up on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East, the Bombers (or whoever finishes third in the East) are going to have to keep an eye on the West Division's fourth-place team, which is currently the 4-7 Edmonton Eskimos, for a potential crossover playoff spot.

"You've got six games left to see whether you'll be getting a first-round bye or whether you won't even be in the playoffs," Brown said. "That's how the race is shaping up, and we just need to all realize that."

So the big question is: Are the Bombers contenders or pretenders?

"I think we've figured it out, but we just have to put it together on the field. We know what we can do," Bombers slotback Milt Stegall said. "And a lot of people are saying 'Well, you won games against the Damon Allen-less Toronto Argonauts, you beat Hamilton, and you got a lucky break against Edmonton.'

"I don't care how you win. We've won six games, and you guys, including you guys -- the Winnipeg media -- didn't think we'd win five or six games all year, which is understandable.

"But we're 6-6 right now, and I think we could maybe have nine or 10 victories."

If the Bombers are going to reach that goal, they're going to have to beat some good teams, as five of their final six games are against the league's cream of the crop in Calgary (twice), Montreal (twice) and B.C. (once).

"I think we're a great team," Stegall said. "Are we the best team in the CFL? That remains to be seen. The best team in the CFL is the team who's won the last game of the year."

That Grey Cup game in Winnipeg is still two months away. The Bombers first need to find a way to put the reins on Stamps quarterback Henry Burris and running back Joffrey Reynolds, second only to Winnipeg's Charles Roberts in league rushing.

The Stamps had a four-game winning streak snapped last week in Edmonton, but their offence remains No. 1 in the league when it comes to rushing and total yards.

"If Henry Burris gets off early and gets going early, it's going to difficult to beat them," Stegall said. "But if we can control him and control Joffrey Reynolds, then we have a pretty good chance of winning this game."

IN PERSPECTIVE: Reynolds would like to win the CFL rushing title, but it's not as important to him as it is to Bombers RB Charles Roberts, who currently leads the race by 41 yards.

"It just depends on if we make the playoffs," Reynolds said. "If we don't make the playoffs, the rushing title doesn't mean nothing at all. I'm going home ... with nothing."

Unlike Roberts, Reynolds doesn't keep close tabs on the contest, either.

"Usually it's my teammates who tell me," said Reynolds, who plans on introducing himself to Roberts before tonight's game.


Videos

Photos