Bombers: Team Turnaround

Tiger-Cats running back Avon Cobourne is gang-tackled by a Winnipeg defence that has become the...

Tiger-Cats running back Avon Cobourne is gang-tackled by a Winnipeg defence that has become the backbone of the league-leading Blue Bombers. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters file photo)

KIRK PENTON

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have bounced back big time in 2011.

They are 7-1, they are four points up on the defending Grey Cup champion Montreal Alouettes in the East Division, and their next two games are against the league’s worst team, the 1-7 Saskatchewan Roughriders.

It might be a little early to look this far ahead, but the Bombers are on pace to have one of the greatest turnarounds in CFL history.

The Blue and Gold were 4-14 in 2010, so they already have six more points than last season. Even if they win half of their remaining games, it would be a 16-point recovery and one of the league’s best.

Also, if they can hold off Montreal and Hamilton in the East, it would be just the second time in franchise history the Bombers have gone from worst to first and just the eighth instance in the CFL since 1946.

It would be quite the story, but the players seem to have come down with a case of amnesia as it pertains to 2010.

“Last year’s behind us. I don’t even remember last year,” left tackle Andre Douglas said. “We finish games. We’re a team. We’re family. We’re a group of guys who are working for one purpose. That’s it.

“We don’t panic. We don’t shake. We just work toward that one goal.”

A big reason for Winnipeg’s reversal of fortune is the health of quarterback Buck Pierce, who is nearing his record for consecutive regular-season starts. He went 10 straight in 2008 with the B.C. Lions.

That makes Winnipeg’s turnaround this year somewhat similar to the two best bounce backs in league history.

The Toronto Argonauts went from 4-14 in 1995 to 15-3 in 1996 after adding a quarterback named Doug Flutie in the off-season.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were 2-16 in 1997, but they were 12-5-1 a year later after signing free-agent pivot Danny McManus.

Flutie and McManus were both established CFL quarterbacks when they arrived in their respective new cities.

By no means is Pierce in the same stratosphere as those two Hall of Famers, but he had five years of experience under his belt when he signed in Winnipeg last spring.

It just took him a year to kick the injury bug.

While the health of Pierce has no doubt played a role in Winnipeg’s success, it’s the defence that is driving the bus.

The league’s top unit not only leads the league in 11 of 19 categories, but it absolutely slams the door when necessary.

Four times this season the Bombers trailed in the fourth quarter and ended up winning.

Each time the Winnipeg defence did not give up a single point after the offence took the lead.

The Bombers have also rebounded from deficits in each of their seven victories. Bouncing back is in their DNA.

“I’ll tell you one thing: If we get up big early it’s going to be hard for teams to come back,” cornerback Jovon Johnson said. “But we’ve been doing a lot of the coming back, so it’s just in us to keep fighting.”

Worst to first

Teams that have gone from last to first in their division in back-to-back seasons (since 1946):

Toronto— 3 (1985-86, 1981-82, 1959-60)

Hamilton — 2 (1997-98, 1960-61)

Winnipeg — 1 (1949-50)

Montreal — 1 (1952-53)


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