By John Gaudes (@johngaudes)
WINNIPEG — A long, cold winter removed from last season’s offensive struggles, the Blue Bombers went back to the old well on Friday night in their 2016 season opener. Winnipeg’s new-look offence stumbled mightily, racking up interceptions, sacks surrendered, and two-and-outs on their way to a 22-14 loss to Montreal.
Though they would finish with some life after sunset, it was earlier struggles that did in the Bombers offence in this one. Quarterback Drew Willy led the team to a two-and-out on four of their first five drives, overthrowing a touchdown opportunity to Ryan Smith in the process. Willy would eventually throw for 232 yards, including a late touchdown, but his play early – which included a second quarter interception – put his team at a deficit.
“It starts with me, that’s the job of the quarterback,” said Willy. “It’s just the first game of the year, obviously we’d like to get a win in the first game of the year for our fans and we didn’t do that tonight. But we’ll come back tomorrow and make sure we work on our mistakes.”
The returning QB was just one piece of a noteworthy trifecta for the Winnipeg offence headed into this season, and the other two members of the cast went through very different nights. Receiver Weston Dressler, the former Rider signed in the off-season, went down in the first quarter on a vicious head-to-head collision and didn’t return. Meanwhile, new halfback Andrew Harris was the only Winnipeg piece working for long stretches, running for 80 yards and receiving for 40 more in his hometown debut.
“When [Dressler] went down, we had a lot of people playing different positions,” said Willy. “Obviously it’s no excuse but he’s one of our best players. I liked how we got Andrew going there in the second half, but we need to get him going earlier… We need to do a better job of getting him the ball and that starts with me.”
“It’s one game. I think when we turn the film on, you’re going to see mistakes and we’ll see if they correct mistakes and what it’s going to look like,” said Bombers coach Mike O’Shea. “They have to be able to see the play with the correction and see what the outcome of the play would’ve been. When they do that, then they’ll believe that what they’re doing is good.”
The lone Bombers touchdown was a 63-yard toss-and-catch from Willy to Darvin Adams, which came with 2:38 left in the game.
On the Montreal side of the ball, the ageless Kevin Glenn continued to burn Winnipeg and force their fans to sift through what-ifs. The former Bomber was special, throwing for 332 yards and a touchdown on 30 completions. Receiver Duron Carter was dynamic as well, catching eight passes for 96 yards, while running for 47 more on action plays. Getting ground yards the old-fashioned way, halfback Tyrell Sutton ran for 66 yards on 15 carries.
Worth noting: delays were just as prevalent as Bombers two-and-outs on this night, as lightning delayed the game for an hour shortly after kickoff. Numerous penalties and challenges on both sides dragged the game as well, bringing it over the four-hour mark. Those Montreal mistakes gave the Bombers a few chances to start their grinding offence, but it never turned into anything productive.
The lone bright spot for Winnipeg? Justin Medlock, who was signed to a lucrative deal (for a kicker) in the off-season to kick the ball long and hard. He did just that in the third quarter, making a club record-tying 58-yard field goal to put the Bombers on the board.
The Bombers now head off for two weeks on the road, beginning in Calgary for a Canada Day night cap. They’ll then play in Hamilton on July 7 before returning home to play the Eskimos on Thursday, July 14.
Most followed Blue Bombers on Twitter
According to Twitter Canada, running back Andrew Harris has gained approximately 2,100 followers since joining the team this season.