The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have their first win of the season but head coach Paul LaPolice says they must get better — and quickly — to guarantee more.
“I’ve watched the defence, I’ve watched the offence, there’s certainly a lot of work to be done,” LaPolice said Friday, a day after Winnipeg edged the Edmonton Eskimos 23-22.
“It’s a game of inches. You’re so close to them holding the ball and kicking a field goal. But our players played and fought the whole game.”
LaPolice says the defence played well and quarterback Alex Brink was solid but the club made costly mistakes on both sides of the ball.
However, LaPolice was still encouraged as the Bombers shift their focus towards hosting the Montreal Alouettes next week.
After playing their first four games of the season on the road, the 1-4 Bombers also can now look forward to three more at home. And it doesn’t hurt that the remaining teams in the East Division were all sitting at a reachable 2-2 going into their fifth games of the season this weekend.
To turn that hope into something more concrete, the Bombers need to rack up a lot more wins and that means more hard work.
“We need to get a lot better and we’ve got one week,” said LaPolice.
Special teams and the secondary were both singled out as groups that will have some extra homework this week.
The list of mistakes was long in what was a pretty sloppy game for both teams, but this time those mistakes worked out more for the Bombers than they have in their first four contests.
Blown assignments, unnecessary penalties that took away gains, players letting emotion rather than their heads rule their actions all have to be corrected.
Demond Washington, the team’s leading kick returner this season, slipped and went down then pounded the turf in frustration instead of getting up to run when he hadn’t been touched.
Rookie defensive lineman Jake Thomas, who caused the fumble that kept Edmonton from closing the gap in the final seconds, also took an unnecessary roughness penalty that negated Washington’s best runback.
Brink was also sacked to take the Bombers out of field-goal range.
There were plenty of positives as well, in particular the way Brink handled himself in his second start this season.
That could be very important, since LaPolice mentioned September as a possible return date for starter Buck Pierce, although he later backtracked a little and said it would just be some time after the bye week. Pierce had previously said Pierce would be back in four weeks or less.
“I gave him the game ball last night,” LaPolice said of Brink. “He didn’t make bad decisions, he ran the ball well and put the ball in spots. There’s still room for improvement but he responded.”
Although he threw two interceptions and the second set up an Edmonton touchdown, the coach didn’t fault him even for those.
“Both his interceptions were on tipped balls.”
The coach also said the offensive line, which has been a weak link in some previous games, stepped up Thursday night and performed well overall in protecting the quarterback.
The defence also made things hard on Edmonton quarterback Steven Jyles and controlled the ground game and talented tailback Hugh Charles, who still managed 76 yards.
“I really felt we minimized the run game,” LaPolice said. “I really felt we were flying around hitting people and we had pressure on Steven most of the game.”
The Bombers were also helped Thursday night by the healthiest offence they’ve fielded this season.
Simpson is a threat both on the ground and as a receiver. Chris Matthews is the CFL’s leading receiver and he was joined by a healthy Cory Watson and a healthy Terrence Edwards, making it tough for a defence to cover all the possibilities.
Watson had 66 yards and Edwards had 67, although Edmonton held Matthews to 52. Most of that was the 40 yards he picked up when he caught a pass from Brink with just seven seconds to go in the first half to score Winnipeg’s first touchdown.