WINNIPEG - When the Bombers had a bye week in recent years, the players couldn’t get out of town fast enough. It was understandable considering they always had to answer questions about why they were so bad.
Now, some of them wouldn’t mind sticking around and playing another game this week. That’s what life is like when you’re the best team in the land, something the Bombers haven’t been able to say in a decade.
“Oh yeah, I wish we had a game this weekend coming up,” cornerback Jovon Johnson, sporting a Swaggerville T-shirt, said Sunday after the Bombers returned from Vancouver. “But we probably need the time off for a little bit because we’ve got a couple guys nicked up that need to get some rest. When we come back we’ll be ready to go again.”
The Bombers pushed their record to 6-1 on Saturday night with a 30-17 win over the B.C. Lions, giving them their best start since 1984 — the year the franchise captured the eighth of its 10 Grey Cups.
Their turnaround has been, in a word, stunning. They were 4-14 last season, losing nine games by four points or fewer. They had the talent, they kept saying, and this year they’re backing up those words.
“It’s not personnel, because it’s pretty much all the same players,” linebacker Pierre-Luc Labbe said. “And other than coach (Tim) Burke, it’s the same coaching staff, too. The attitude’s different. The guys are more mature. We’ve learned from our mistakes. What was it? A lot of things. Bad decisions, flags, and Buck’s healthy, too.”
Ah yes, Mr. Pierce. The injury-prone quarterback has started all seven games this year and finished five of them. He is 5-0 as the quarterback of record, and Labbe wasn’t the only teammate on Sunday to point to his continuous upright position as a significant factor in the team’s success.
Pierce takes that as a compliment.
“I would say that’s a nice thing to say, but I think we’re 6-1 because we believe in each other and we have a trust factor in this group,” Pierce said. “We’re excited to step on the field together, and we win for each other. We win for the guy next to us.”
The smothering defence is tops in the league, no matter who suits up. The Bombers were missing starting defensive tackles Doug Brown and Dorian Smith on Saturday, yet they held the Leos to 64 rushing yards.
The offence struggled out of the gate at Empire Field, mustering just four first downs and 125 yards in the first half. But they exploded in the third quarter, putting 17 points on the board to all but seal the deal.
Johnson says you can stop asking the question about why the Bombers are the best in the CFL. It’s simple, really.
“We’re playing good football in all facets — special teams, offence and defence. That’s been the key,” he said. “The past years it was either our offence has been good and our special teams and defence has been lacking — or vice versa.
“It’s always been one being a step ahead of the other, but right now we got all three phases going.”
The Bombers return to the practice field on Sunday. They will host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday, Aug. 26.