By John Gaudes (@johngaudes)
WINNIPEG — With high hopes coming in, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers suffered every pitfall imaginable on Thursday night. A week after getting their first win in Regina in 11 years, they lost their momentum, their starting quarterback, and their home opener to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 52-26.
Two weeks after a strong preseason outing, Hamilton quarterback Zach Collaros hosted a clinic on Winnipeg’s defence yet again, putting up 354 yards and two touchdowns on 26-for-33 passing. His touchdown passes went to Bakari Grant and Terrence Toliver, as he adeptly picked up Winnipeg’s blitzes and exposed their defence. The Bombers continue to struggle on that end of the ball, recording just two sacks after getting none in Week 1.
“I think the defence will only get better, because you’re talking about making wholesale changes with the coaching staff and guys getting used to a new system,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “We’ll do whatever we need to fix it, but push the panic button right now? Come on, it’s Week 2.”
In front of 27,279 fans at Investors Group Field, Winnipeg quarterback Drew Willy didn’t get the same opportunity as Collaros. Willy was knocked out cold in the first quarter on an unpenalized helmet-to-helmet hit by defensive end Adrian Tracy. He did not return to the game with what was cited as an “upper body injury” by O’Shea.
“You hate to see anyone go down like that,” said Bombers wideout Nick Moore. “We’ve got to be resilient, though. Whether it’s Drew or anybody… we have to step up and play our same game.”
At the time of Willy’s departure, the score was 10-7 Hamilton. Almost immediately, the Bombers unraveled. Right after Willy limped off, Tiger-Cats return specialist Brandon Banks ended the first with a punt return touchdown. Hamilton scored again on a Jeff Mathews one-yard scamper, which was quickly followed by Bombers backup quarterback Brian Brohm throwing the first of his two pick-sixes on the night. All that swelled the Tiger-Cats lead to 31-7, which proved an early finish for Winnipeg’s hopes.
“I know there’s a lot of things I can learn from and get better at,” said Brohm. “I just need to play cleaner football. Can’t turn the football over, that’s the number one thing.”
Brohm’s leash was long in this one, as he played out the final three quarters for a line of 146 yards and two interceptions on 16-for-28 passing, with one touchdown on the ground. Other than that, bright spots for Winnipeg were few. Moore led in receiving yards with 79 on six receptions. Running back Paris Cotton had 46 yards on nine attempts, including a highlight leap in the fourth quarter to pad the numbers a bit.
“I have to re-evaluate… my thoughts on preparation week, I really do,” said O’Shea. “We play a good football game in [Saskatchewan], we come back and we have a ton of energy in practice week, and I probably should’ve done more to settle guys down.”
“When we make this many mistakes and take this many penalties, when we can’t get off the field, I think there’s more to it.”
With the Hamilton win and Winnipeg loss, both teams move to 1-1 on the year. Winnipeg stays home next week to play the Montreal Alhouettes on Friday, July 10 at 6 p.m.