WINNIPEG — Starting the season 2-0 should have the Winnipeg Blue Bombers feeling pretty good, but that’s not the case with the back-to-back Grey Cup champions.
As the Bombers prepared to host the winless Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-2) on Friday – the club they beat for both titles – the focus was on correcting mistakes on both sides of the ball.
“It’s better to be 2-0 and have things you know you need to work on and you can still correct them than being 0-2 and having that same situation, right?” Winnipeg linebacker Adam Bighill said after Thursday’s walk-through practice.
“So the key is to make sure you’re learning from your mistakes even when you win. We recognize there was a lot of mistakes we need to clean up to be able to win more games this season, win tighter games as we go forward and, ultimately, get to where we want to go.”
The Bombers have won a pair of games against the Ottawa Redblacks, a 19-17 home victory on a field goal with six seconds remaining on June 10, and 19-12 in Ottawa last week.
Winnipeg's 38 points puts them in seventh place in the CFL. Hamilton is fifth with 43.
Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said the team has “a high standard” and the way they achieved a 2-0 start isn’t too much to celebrate.
“Obviously you're happy after the game if you get the win, but there's always six or seven things that you can do better and usually those things are either exposed or maybe look better on film the next day,” said Collaros, the league’s reigning most outstanding player.
“We try to really be critical of the things that we can improve on. So the day after a game, win or lose, it’s generally, ‘OK we can do this better, this better, this better.’”
Hamilton is coming off a 33-30 overtime loss to the Calgary Stampeders, a game in which the Ticats had a 24-0 lead late in the first half. They also lost their season-opener 30-13 on the road versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Head coach Orlondo Steinauer said the Tiger-Cats will try to turn the tide and not focus on their record.
“The elephant in the room is the final result on the scoreboard, but there was so much good, so much improvement from a week ago,” Steinauer told the media after a practice this week.
“So we’re just trying to get better every week. It’s got to show up in the win column. We know that, but we don’t focus on that. We took a lot of positives from the game. Definitely disappointed, whatever emotion you want to throw under there, but you better not sulk too much because we’re going to Winnipeg.”
Both teams will have changes to last week’s rosters.
Winnipeg will be without defensive back Winston Rose (foot) and offensive lineman Michael Couture (arm), who was put on the six-game injured list. Demerio Houston replaces Rose on the corner and Chris Kolankowski takes the spot of veteran centre Couture.
Hamilton added a fourth offensive lineman to its injured lists as last year’s East Division most outstanding offensive lineman Brandon Revenberg will miss Friday’s game. The Ticats have given up nine quarterback sacks, tying them for the most with Edmonton. Winnipeg has allowed two.
The Bombers, who had the league’s stingiest defence last season, have given up 825 yards in net offence for seventh spot in the league. Hamilton is sixth with 753 yards.
“Last year, that was just a hallmark of us. We didn't give up explosions and we definitely didn't give up a lot of touchdowns,” Bighill said. “We can't allow teams to move the ball consistently down the field and have explosive plays and put our offence in our own zone.”
So would a decisive victory over the Ticats mean the Bombers are progressing?
“I'm not necessarily really caught up in what the outcome is, score differential, scoreboard,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said. “I'm more interested in seeing how we play.”
HAMILTON (0-2) AT WINNIPEG (2-0)
Friday, IG Field
BEST NOT ENOUGH: Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans set new career highs in attempts (51) and completions (36) in last week’s loss to Calgary. He threw for 425 yards and three touchdowns.
ON A ROLL: The Bombers are on a 10-game home win streak. The franchise record is 16 straight (1983-85).
CATCH AND RUN: Hamilton leads the league in yards after a catch with 379. That accounts for 54.5 per cent of the team’s total passing yardage.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press