Now for big question

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

It was in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's playoff thriller that Juran Bolden, bad back and all, was headed for the locker-room when he came across Blue Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer.

Stretching out those mile-long arms of his, Bolden enveloped Bauer, the former O-lineman, in a bear hug that could have crushed a fire hydrant.

It was the prospect of a moment like this that kept Bolden in a game he had no business staying in. When your back, already iffy after an injury three weeks earlier, goes into spasm the way his did, your only place is a seat on the bench -- right in front of that industrial-strength propane heater.

The prospect of such a moment is also what brought Bolden back this summer to the place his football career began a dozen years ago, was salvaged back in 2001-02 and where it appears ready to wind down in the present.

"I came back for a reason," Bolden said in the locker-room later, his back stiffening along with his resolve to play again next weekend. "Last time I had an opportunity to go to the Grey Cup, we fell short. We've got a good team here. Honestly, we've got a great chance of going back."

That may be.

But Bolden and everybody else who was involved in the Great Letdown of '01 won't get a shot at redemption if the Bombers can't clean up what was still a far-from-perfect performance in Sunday's 24-22 win over Montreal.

Oh, it was gritty, all right. A character-builder. But it didn't come without plenty of help from Jim Popp's Alouettes, a team that seemed to find ways to lose all season long, then invented a whole new one.

Popp's third-down gamble with a minute and a half to go went against everything in the head coaching handbook. It also gave the Bombers an opportunity, which, to their full credit, they jumped on like a cocker spaniel on a lame rabbit.

But be warned: the Toronto Argonauts are an entirely different animal, with way more teeth than what the Bombers faced Sunday.

"Toronto's defence is significantly different than Montreal's," head coach Doug Berry allowed in his post-game remarks. "Toronto has a real strong special team presence, so we'll have to deal with that, as well."

Yes, there's lots more bite in the Argos kicking game, too, a unit that took more than one chunk out of Winnipeg's leg during the season.

So if the Bombers, playing at home, almost got nipped by a Montreal side that, while game enough, hasn't been hanging with the big dogs all season, how do you think they'll have to play to avoid getting mauled in Toronto, five days hence?

"They beat us two out of three times during the season," linebacker Barrin Simpson offered, obviously needing no reminders. "But the playoffs is a whole different level."

A level nobody really knows if the Bombers can maintain.

So by all means, enjoy the moment. Relish the high a win in the playoffs brings. Hugs all around.

But don't think for a minute this team has answered all the questions it raised over the last seven weeks of the regular season.

"The euphoria, we've just got to channel it a little bit," D-lineman Doug Brown said. "Beating Montreal, that's what you're supposed to do at home. We need to build off of this. If we show up in Toronto and play the way we're capable of, it could be a good season for us."

Are the Bombers capable?

It hasn't looked that way, lately.

Then again, a guy who didn't look capable of going back in the game Sunday wound up making a game-changing interception.

And Bolden says he'll take his bad back into Toronto and damn the consequences.

"Hell, yeah, I'm playing," he said. "They ain't stopping me, man."

But if you're not careful, the Argos just might.


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