TORONTO -- Ike Charlton cannot express the importance of the next three games.
"This is three huge divisional games," Charlton said yesterday, "and we need to be at least 3-0."
We're not sure what's better than 3-0, but Charlton and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are confident they can achieve it.
Life is grand when you are given new life.
By playing in the woeful East Division, Winnipeg's 1-4 start basically means nothing; the Bombers were one game out of first place going into last night's action.
Not only that, but the Bombers have swashbuckling quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie coming off a last-second win in his first regular-season start (32-28 over Calgary last Thursday) and Milt Stegall, their locker-room leader and arguably the greatest receiver in CFL history, returning to the lineup after sitting out five games following knee surgery.
No wonder the boys in Blue and Gold strolled into Toronto yesterday looking like they'd just spent a week at the cottage.
They are relaxed and ready for tonight's tilt with the Toronto Argonauts (2-3) at Rogers Centre (6 p.m., TSN/CJOB). After that are home games against Montreal and Hamilton, and then the bye week.
Charlton, sitting up on a counter in a hallway of the team hotel yesterday afternoon, knows a big, fat second chance is staring his team in the face. A record of 4-4 going into the bye week would feel like 8-0.
"We have a chance to position ourselves to be right back in first place, which is crazy, but you don't want to take a step back," Charlton said.
"We want to keep going, want to keep building, want to keep progressing and be the team that we know we're capable of being."
The Argos, who downed the Bombers 23-16 at Canad Inns Stadium in Week 1, are ready for a fired-up Bomb squad. It was difficult to tell if Argos safety Orlondo Steinauer was thinking more about Stegall or Dinwiddie yesterday.
"The biggest thing he's going to bring is just leadership," Steinauer said of Stegall's return. "Not to knock his physical (skills), but they've scored points without him, they've moved the ball without him."
As for the suggestion Dinwiddie's 450 yards last week against Calgary were mostly the result of some excellent work by his receivers, Steinauer wasn't buying it.
"That's smart to me," he said. "Two good things can happen for the offence: You can get a pass interference (penalty) or you can go up and catch it. Yeah, you can always give up the interception, but you go deep on a DB a few times and they're going to soften up."
Dinwiddie, whose last appearance at Rogers Centre was November's Grey Cup loss to Saskatchewan, knows he has a glorious opportunity to lead his team out of the muck that is the mediocre East Division.
"We were hoping it would turn out that way," said Dinwiddie, the CFL's reigning offensive player of the week. "Right now everybody can take this East Division. We just gotta keep winning football games and stay at it.
"We gotta get on a streak, and it starts (tonight)."