Reality check: Blue Bombers hand Redblacks their first loss of the season

Many consider the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to be the class of the young CFL season. On Friday night, they proved why with a 29-15 road win over the Ottawa Redblacks.

The Blue Bombers were far from perfect but outplayed the Redblacks in all three facets of the game: offence, defence and special teams. It was a battle between the CFL’s last two undefeated teams. Now, Winnipeg sits alone at the top of the standings at 3-0.

The Blue Bombers defence in particular served an early-season reality check to a Redblacks offence that had been performing well through two games. Playing without Adam Bighill, the leader of the defence, Winnipeg still only allowed 258 yards while forcing three Ottawa turnovers.

The defensive line made the Redblacks pass-blocking look overmatched at times as well. Through three games, the Winnipeg defence has allowed only one offensive touchdown.

It took two quarterbacks for the Blue Bombers to get the win. Starter Matt Nichols completed 80% of his passes for 262 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter due to injury. In came backup Chris Streveler, who had a combined 86 yards through the air and on the ground and added two rushing touchdowns.

Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris said this week that his team needed to swing first (hyperlink this please: The Bombers offence did just that, scoring on their second play from scrimmage. It was an 82-yard catch and run to a wide-open Nic Demski.

Demski ran a smooth post route and got the best of safety Antoine Pruneau. Based on the way Pruneau played it however, it is possible that linebacker Anthony Cioffi was supposed to be in-coverage as well on the inside of Demski’s route. Either way, it was an electric start for the Bombers.

Besides that big play to Demski and another later on to receiver Darvin Adams, the Blue Bomber offence was steady but effective. They moved the ball gradually and kept drives going with several conversions on second down.

Harris contributed a physical 130 yards from scrimmage. His physical play between the tackles and ability to get open in the flat on short passes helped Winnipeg keep long drives going and control the clock.

He is the key cog in the Nichols’-led offence that focuses on low risk, efficient play. Nichols and Streveler also spread the ball around effectively as well. Four different Blue Bombers had 50+ receiving yards.

The Redblacks did themselves no favors in a game plagued by mental and performance mistakes. They committed 10 penalties and gave the ball away three times.

The Redblacks defence had its troubles getting off the field at times. The Winnipeg offence was patient and methodical and wore the defence out on some of the longer drives.

What Ottawa continues to thrive at however is taking the ball away. The defence forced two turnovers, including this scoop and score by Jonathan Rose to give the Redblacks hope of a second-half comeback.

His fellow ‘Bro’, Sherrod Baltimore, forced the fumble with a violent punch out.

That play put the Redblacks within eight but a mental mistake by Ottawa return man Ryan Lankford mere minutes later gave Winnipeg the opportunity to put the game away.

Lankford failed to field the punt, which regained the Blue Bombers possession of the ball. Streveler scored a touchdown on a quarterback sneak two plays later.

Dominique Davis was a backup in Winnipeg for three years from 2015-2017. In his first start against his former team, Davis completed only 58% of his passes with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The steady pressure from the Blue Bomber defensive line made sure Davis rarely had a clean pocket to step-up in.

His running back fared no better. It was tough sledding for Mossis Madu, who only had 18 yards on six carries against the CFL’s top rush defence.

Reigning Most Outstanding Canadian Brad Sinopoli had one catch for eight yards. It was his first one catch game in nearly three years.

It was a tough game for receiver Caleb Holley as well. He had a 39-yard catch on Ottawa’s second drive of the game but it was called back after a review proved that Holley pushed off from the defensive back to get open. He also dropped a wide open pass on a key second down play in the third quarter and fumbled the ball away on a reception in the fourth.

Quick Notes:

  • This is Winnipeg’s first 3-0 start since 2014
  • The Redblacks are now 4-8 coming off a bye in team history
  • Streveler hooked up with wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky for a touchdown in the second quarter. The two were college roommates at the University of Minnesota
  • Before Matt Nichols exited the game, he threw his 100th career touchdown
  • The Redblacks successfully pulled-off a fake punt in the second half. A direct snap to fullback J.C. Beaulieu resulted in a first down
  • Ottawa kicker Lewis Ward extended his pro football record to 59 straight field goals. His first make of the night was a 53-yarder that set a new career long

Despite Winnipeg rolling to a two-touchdown victory, it was a physical game on both sides. The two teams got into an extended scuffle late in the game after Davis was sacked by Willie Jefferson. The Redblacks will be in Winnipeg two weekends from now for the rematch.

But first, the Redblacks will host the Montreal Alouettes at TD Place next Saturday. It will be a 4 p.m. start from TD Place as Ottawa looks to get back on track in their first divisional matchup of the season.