Alouettes play host to streaking Blue Bombers
Montreal, QC (Sports Network) - In a surprising turn of events, Winnipeg finds itself tied atop the Western Division standings after two weeks of play, something that would have been unthinkable just a season ago when the club registered a grand total of just three victories in 18 chances.
This time around the Blue Bombers are one of only two teams (the other being Edmonton) that is 2-0 after as many weeks as they prepare to challenge the enigmatic Montreal Alouettes at Percival-Molson Stadium on Friday evening.
Last year at this time the Bombers had split a pair of meetings with Montreal and then didn't pick up their second victory of the campaign until Week 11 with a 25-13 stunner versus Saskatchewan. Ironically, the only other win after that also came against the Als five weeks later on the road, 34-27.
After defeating Toronto in the 2014 opener, rather convincingly (45-21), the Blue Bombers had their hands full against the Ottawa RedBlacks, in the debut of the latter in the CFL on July 3. In fact, Ottawa delivered three touchdowns in the first 15 minutes of action, before being held to just seven points the rest of the way in a 36-28 final.
Quarterback Drew Willy managed to connect on 21-of-33 passes for 307 yards, but while he was able to move the ball up and down the field with regularity, he was sacked five times and threw an interception, while being held out of the end zone. Instead, it was running back Nic Grigsby who did the honors as he logged three majors and 62 yards on 14 rushing attempts.
Providing another boost for the Bombers was Demond Washington, who returned a kickoff 96 yards for a score in the fourth quarter, but even after that Willy attempted a two-point conversion and failed. Tack on a lost fumble for Willy and it ended up being a mixed bag for the signal-caller. For his efforts, Washington was named the CFL's Special Teams Player of the Week.
Perhaps because of their early success, the Bombers are now taking care of their own as they locked up a couple of defenders with contract extensions this week. Linebacker Teague Sherman and defensive tackle Jake Thomas were given some additional job security after Week 2 action, although terms were not disclosed.
Sherman, in his second season with Winnipeg, partially blocked a punt and added two tackles in last week's victory against Ottawa and also reeled in an 11-yard pass on a fake punt in the season-opener versus Toronto.
Now in his third season with the club, Thomas has just 10 stops in 32 career games, but is only now becoming a fixture along the defensive line.
As for the Alouettes, they bounced back from a disappointing 29-8 loss to Calgary in the opener and grabbed a convincing 24-9 victory versus British Columbia on July 4 at home. Montreal jumped all over the Lions with a 20-0 halftime advantage and then cruised to the triumph, thanks in part to defensive end John Bowman, who tied a career-high with four sacks as he was named the CFL's Defensive Player of the Week.
The very first points of the meeting were tallied by Chip Cox, who took a lateral after an interception and returned it 23 yards for the score.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Troy Smith bounced back from a lackluster opener to keep the Als in line for the win. Smith converted 17- of-29 passing for 187 yards and was sacked only once, while Brandon Whitaker ran for a game-high 76 yards on 12 carries, including a 32-yard TD in the first quarter.
Kicker Sean Whyte accounted for 12 points as he hit on three of his five field goal tries. Despite the strong showing, Whyte is still fourth in the league in kicking points after two games with just 13.
While those kicking points certainly come into play from one week to the next, the bigger concern for the Als is the progress of Smith under center. Against Calgary, the former Heisman Trophy winner was sacked four times and intercepted once. Although, after not logging a single rushing attempt versus the Stampeders, Smith did take off six times for 55 yards.
Third in the league in pass attempts with 70, Smith has converted just half of those and has an efficiency rating of 58.1 over two games.
By comparison, Willy is fourth this week with a rating of 108.7 and has connected on 66.7 percent of his throws.
As far as the series between the squads is concerned, taking into account only regular season bouts dating back to 1961, the Als are ahead by a count of 46-38-2, although Winnipeg has won two straight and four of the last five, including a 34-27 final last October in Montreal.
These teams are slated to face off against each other once more in the regular season in Week 9 at Winnipeg.
07/09 10:54:35 ET