They came into this week with their grip on first place in the East slowly slipping away. A loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats would have made things harder.
However, they came out with fire and determination against the Black and Gold and played all sixty minutes roughly error-free, securing their first playoff berth since 2008.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will head to the postseason for the first time since 2008. However, at what spot remains unclear.
Currently first in the East, Winnipeg is battling with Montreal for the top spot and with one game remaining on October 22, the club knows they’re just a few games away from securing the No. 1 seed.
Unfortunately for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, it appears it did not matter which team Winnipeg played last night as they were on their game in all three phases.
The special teams unit for the most part contained the return game against Hamilton with no big returns.
First overall pick from the 2011 CFL Draft, Henoc Muamba, continues to make an impact on special teams, recording three tackles last night. The club is smart to ease him in slowly and develop instead of forcing the game on the young man.
One thing many teams do is practice gadget plays in practice and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally used two of them last night. Unfortunately, they were both rescinded due to penalties committed by special teams player James Green.
Justin Palardy was one-for-two on field goal attempts but came through on a 49-yard attempt, his longest of the season. On the season, he is 16-of-17.
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defense came up lame in coverage and on run defense, which allowed Chris Garrett to rush for 131 yards, Winnipeg’s first 100-yard rushing game on the season.
An issue in the past for the running backs was their ability to complete on all three phases: blocking, rushing and receiving. Fred Reid was certainly good at the latter two but would often miss his blocks.
Last night, Chris Garrett was put in that position once again and came up big, blowing one cover that allowed for a Hamilton sack but for the majority, he played well.
Whether or not Garrett will be the primary back in 2012 remains to be seen with Fred Reid slated to return, but he will certainly be an option in the future.
For the first time this season, the offensive line collectively played their best game and it was shown with the time that quarterback Buck Pierce had to make decisions and throw the ball.
At the same time, the club registered no two-and-outs in the first half after taking almost 100 before Friday’s game.
They were efficient, opening holes for Chris Garrett to rush, while also allowing Buck Pierce to run in the touchdown.
The unit did their job, and for that the team was successful offensively. When the two mix, the Bombers win.
For three Winnipeg offensive players last night there was almost 350 yards of offense combined, as Chris Garrett rushed for 131 yards while Clarence Denmark received for 110 and Greg Carr had 101.
This was Chris Garrett’s career game, while it was a new best for Clarence Denmark, who had a 101-yard game in Week 5 against the Edmonton Eskimos. This was Greg Carr’s third 100-yard game and first of the season.
For another receiver, Terrence Edwards, this has been a slow season of working through a bundle of injuries. This was Edwards’ second lowest receiving game at 12 yards.
When given time to throw the ball, Buck Pierce can get it almost anywhere; last night was certainly no exception. One thing that still plagues Pierce is his decision making on the run. More often than not, Pierce will fall forward, making himself vulnerable rather than taking the slide.
Defensively, the Bombers were everywhere last night. For the third straight game against Hamilton, the Winnipeg defense registered a pick-six courtesy of Brandon Stewart, returning for 82 yards.
Odell Willis continues to pad his sack stats; another against Hamilton put him at 12 on the season. He has surpassed his total sack count from a year ago when he finished with 11.
The Winnipeg defense essentially swept the first half up 12-0 before the final snap and field goal by Hamilton. They would increase their lead to 26-3 before Hamilton’s first touchdown with just a minute left in the third.
The defense made sure to keep receiver Terry Grant quiet during the game, handling four passes for 13 yards and 73 yards on five kick returns. It was certainly night and day after Grant received 138 yards and two touchdowns the last two games.
Stevie Baggs continued to proclaim himself as the best defensive end in the league, though he was held without a tackle or a stat all night long.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers responded strongly to their loss at home against the Montreal Alouettes last week, knowing that they were but a few games away from securing the top spot and a bye going into the postseason.
It’s been three years since Winnipeg last swept the Hamilton Tiger-Cats; ironically Kevin Glenn was Winnipeg’s quarterback at the time.
Winnipeg is now 5-2 on the road after finishing 2010 with zero wins and leads in divisional wins at 6-2. They’ll face the Edmonton Eskimos next week on the road and will look for another win as they hope to secure first place.