HAMILTON - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers didn’t just get off a two-game slide on Friday night.
They didn’t just win a big clash against an East Division opponent.
And they didn’t just clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2008.
The most important aspect of their 33-17 thumping of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats was the way in which they did it.
In most seasons during the past decade, the Blue and Gold lacked an ability to bounce back. A two-game losing streak would have simply been a prelude to a three-game losing streak.
Not anymore. The Bombers waltzed into Ivor Wynne Stadium and swept the Ticats, all but clinching a home playoff game. All three phases of the game were dominant at a time when they needed to be.
They are the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in case you hadn’t already noticed.
“This team’s certainly sprouted a backbone, and it’s been reinforced,” said veteran defensive tackle Doug Brown, who is off to the playoffs for the seventh time in his 11-year career. “Last year, these are games we would’ve lost. When things started to go down we had no response, really. We weren’t able to get to that extra gear, we weren’t able to regroup and refocus.
“This year, when people have counted us out, when we’ve strung some losses together, we’ve been able to respond in really critical moments and critical games, especially on the road.”
So what the heck happened? Brown figures the off-season vote of confidence from the team brass went a long way.
“What a credit to the management and the coaching staff and the progression of the players,” Brown said. “Our staff had the courage to stick with a lot of guys in this room when a lot of people wouldn’t after a four-win season, and it’s starting to slowly pay dividends.
“We still have a ways to go, but we’re starting to see the fruits of that labour and that effort.”
The Bombers have tough sledding down the stretch, having to visit both Edmonton and Calgary, and their home game on Oct. 22 against Montreal could go a long way towards deciding which of those teams will host the East final.
If anything, Friday night’s authoritative triumph proves there’s no reason why the Bombers can’t be that team. The win was another piece of evidence that the Blue and Gold have the ability to run with anyone in a year where there is no clear-cut Grey Cup favourite.
“If we continue to improve and get better each week,” head coach Paul LaPolice said, “I think we can be a force down the stretch.”
Go figure. The Bombers believe in themselves, and now they actually mean it.
How that plays out on the field over the next month and a half will be interesting to watch.