That was a loss for the ages. This will sting for a while as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers look to recover from their 32-26 loss to the Montreal Alouettes Friday night.
They were without their both their starting and backup running backs as well as their starting quarterback and several injuries among the defense.
They were down 29-6 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter before a Henoc Muamba blocked punt recovery was ran back to the house for his first CFL touchdown pulled them closer.
They played with great resilience, heart and determination to win the game than witnessed this season but it was simply not the time.
Now, they have lost their last four of five games after starting the season at 7-1, their best start since 1984. With their last five games falling 1-4, they could look at an 8-8 record with two games remaining and their play-off hopes in the balance.
Not spending the entire time looking at the negatives there is certainly one positive to take away from the game and that comes from behind center, starting pivot Alex Brink.
Alex Brink started just his second career game under the Blue and Gold after his start last season went south fast and the fans were quick to show their displeasure.
This season Brink would get another opportunity against Montreal and was able to open their first drive with a field goal and the fans responded with pleasure.
Brink threw for 326 yards while completing 24 of 40 passes for 60 percent and retaining composure through the adversity he would face being down 15-3 at halftime.
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Make no mistake that this is Buck Pierce’s team going forward and that Alex Brink was simply keeping the seat warm, but in Pierce’s absence the fans were able to witness what a year under Brink’s belt has done for him and the results couldn’t have been better.
At the same time, the special teams made a big play near the end of the third quarter as James Green blocked Sean Whyte’s punt which allowed number one draft pick Henoc Muamba to make the scoop and run 52 yards to the house.
Making his debut at running back for the Blue and Gold was Chris Garrett who before Friday night only saw limited action in 2010.
He made the most of his opportunity rushing for 76 yards on eleven carries but his biggest play came on a 32-yard scamper up the middle after blowing through the secondary to bring Winnipeg within a touchdown.
That is where it all went downhill for the team. Winnipeg had the ball at their 40-yard line and on the first play to Terrence Edwards; the ball was fumbled and recovered by the defense.
Winnipeg would rely once again on the play of their own defense that has kept the offense in several close tight games. A two and out and Brink had just over a minute left to work with.
At his own 25-yard line, several quick completions and a pass-interference call put the offense at the goal line and that’s where they would stay. Unable to punch the ball in twice, the coaching staff failed to get the clock figured out and ran out of time.
There is no question that there have been many questionable calls by the refereeing crew this season, not just for the Bombers but league-wide, however that is a far-cry of an excuse to use on a loss.
When the team is down at the goal line it is simply the offensive line’s job to make the gaps and get the push through for the major.
Whether the offensive line itself or the schemes surround those packages need to be changed remain unknown however for head coach Paul LaPolice, he will need to do some thinking and moves will need to be made if they want to be Grey Cup contenders this season.
For Montreal tonight, their offense was kept alive mostly by Jamel Richardson who caught six passes for 126 yards. The closest receiver was Brian Bratton for five catches and 52 yards.
Anthony Calvillo who suffered a concussion just a week ago was behind center once again and didn’t miss a beat, completing 26 of 44 attempts for 335 yards and three touchdowns.
When it appeared, Calvillo and the offense were going to score a touchdown, the Winnipeg defense stepped up and contained them to field goals. This most likely is what kept the game from getting too out of hand and out of reach.
At the end of the day turnovers killed the Bombers once again and it is very hard to win football games when making critical mistakes like that.
This is a team that led the league for thirteen weeks, led their division for 13 but now sit tied with Montreal, two points ahead of Hamilton and will face them next week.
We understand that when Buck Pierce is back at strength and Paul LaPolice feels he’s ready Pierce will be back behind center, no question about it. For now however, this was Brink’s time to shine and although it came with a loss, Brink came and impressed.
The remainder of the season won’t get easier for the Bombers who were looking favoured to lock up the East could see themselves in a battle for second place with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats soon.
Winnipeg will play on the road to Hamilton and then Edmonton before returning home in a rematch against Montreal. For Montreal, they will play their next two at home against Toronto and Hamilton before returning to Winnipeg.