First place feels good

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Now, they really do believe they can be contenders, not pretenders.

You get the impression they weren't so sure before Sunday's outing.

The Blue Bombers beat the Alouettes -- last year's Grey Cup finalists -- 17-14 in Montreal on Sunday and that has done wonders for the players' psyche.

"We're talking about, 'We're a playoff contender now and we know it,'" Winnipeg head coach Doug Berry declared yesterday. "And these guys know what's expected. The thing is, it's not so much what I expect of them, it's what they're now expecting of themselves."

The Bombers improved to 7-7 -- already two more wins than they had all last season -- and moved into a first-place tie in the CFL East with Montreal and Toronto, both 7-6.

"Man, it feels real good," veteran defensive back Anthony Malbrough said after the game. "It felt like a playoff game. It was real intense out there (Sunday) because they needed a win bad, we needed a win bad. It was for first place ... We wanted to keep them on a losing streak.

"There was so much on the line and we stepped up and won. I don't think people realize how it was -- to get seven wins, to get first place, to keep them on a losing streak. There's a lot riding on (Friday's) game and we just have a handful of games left."

The Alouettes, who have lost six straight, come to town for a re-match this Friday. In Montreal, there seemed to be more concern over the shaken confidence of quarterback Anthony Calvillo -- who was booed by his own fans -- and the immediate future of head coach Don Matthews than any thoughts of revenge towards the Bombers.

"We won this one on the road, now we've got to win at home and that would put us in first place," said Bomber linebacker Barrin Simpson. "And that would separate the men from the boys. Like they say, this is crunch time."

After Friday, the Bombers have Hamilton, Calgary and B.C. left on their schedule.

"We're down to four games (left) and this is the part of the season where you want to be right where we are -- have an opportunity to look forward to the playoff situation and say, 'We want to be part of it,'" Berry said. "At this time, we know we can start counting and say we're in a win-loss situation with Edmonton (4-9), where any combination of two (wins and losses would eliminate the Eskimos from the playoffs). And if we can win two of (the next four), then we can secure our own destiny in terms of making the playoffs, which is our first goal, our first priority.

"The first opportunity to get one of those two wins is this Friday night and that's what we expect to do."

The 4-11 Tiger-Cats could still catch Winnipeg if they win their three remaining contests while the Bombers lose all four of theirs.

But the Bombers are now looking ahead, not over their shoulders.

"To beat any team in their home is nice," said centre Obby Khan. "To beat Montreal in their home is especially nice. It's just the way our season's going. We're in a fight for first place and came out and did what we had to do "They're (Alouettes) going to be hungry (Friday) but we're going to be hungrier."


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