August 17, 2012
Bombers finally show some real progressWhere did that second half come from?
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - It was half-time at the Ruins at Polo Park, a dog show about to get underway and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 30 minutes into what looked like another dog of a game.
Some 30 rows up, a past president of the team who shall remain nameless caught my attention, shook his head, then covered his eyes.
To that point, the Bombers had looked awful on special teams and spotty on defence, while the Winnipeg offence had managed a grand total of seven points.
The rush to the rum hut was on.
But a funny thing happened at the intermission.
The team that came out wearing blue and gold for the second half didn’t look like anything we’ve seen this season.
The first time it got the ball, it drove the thing down field, nine plays tallying 67 yards. Sure, it settled for a field goal, but progress is progress.
Cue the defence, which came up with a third-down stuff that so shook up the Hamilton Tiger-Cats they wouldn’t even try another 3rd-and-one later.
When the Tabbies did try one, the game on the line, they threw the ball into the dirt instead of run into the teeth of a Winnipeg defence that was tasting blood, and forcing six turnovers.
By the final gun, it was 32-25, Bombers, and that’s not a misprint.
Paul LaPolice’s crew couldn’t have picked a better time to score more than 30 turnover-free points for the first time this year, as this was a season on the brink.
That it happened with Joey Elliott replacing Alex Brink at the helm made it even more remarkable.
The confident, dare I say swashbuckling 26-year-old gave the Bomber attack an arm it hasn’t seen in a while.
The last time a Blue and Gold pivot hit 400 yards through the air was nearly three years ago. Believe it or not, it was Michael Bishop doing it under Mike Kelly’s relic of a system.
“That’s how many yards we threw for? That means I threw for about 200 of them and Terrence, Clarence, Chris, Cory and the rest of my receivers and Chad had the other 200 yards,” Elliott said, spreading the credit as well as he did the ball. “Offence was clicking. We got into a groove.”
It was a stretch late in that third quarter and early in the fourth, two drives capped by Elliott touchdown strikes, that really brought the rum-heads back to their seats.
More importantly, it lifted the dark cloud that threatened to engulf the Bombers and send this season into the dumper.
“It’s major for our organization,” corner Jovon Johnson said. “For the coaches, the players, the entire organization. We stepped up and played the game like we know how, the way we expect each other to play.”
You presumed half-time included a paint-peeling speech, like the one linebackers coach Chip Garber delivered on the bench after Hamilton scored on its first possession.
Not so, said the head man.
“We just talked about how we’re going to play,” LaPolice said, calling the first quarter the worst of the season. “The same thing we’ve done for three years here.”
Well, something finally clicked.
“We can do it again,” Elliott insisted.
It was far from perfect. Special teams were a walking disaster in the first half, and the defence remains vulnerable to the big play, Johnson burned big-time in the second half.
But after six games of mostly spinning their wheels, you could finally say this was progress. A fan could conjure up some hope, if they dare (the B.C. Lions are next).
There might even be a past president out there feeling it’s safe to uncover his eyes again.