WINNIPEG — At least there will be no breaking bad for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season.
They kept their playoff hopes alive with a win Monday that also means they won’t bust the team’s old record for losing in the 18-game CFL.
At 3-12 they would now finish, at worst, tied with the old mark of 3-15 set under Jeff Reinebold. But they have three games to go and other wins at least possible.
“That’s good to know, I didn’t know that,” coach Tim Burke said Wednesday of the impact that one win had on his first full season as a head coach.
“Let’s try to be above that too.”
But the Bombers are still hanging on by a thread, that will snap as soon as they lose or as soon as the Montreal Alouettes (6-9) win.
They face the Toronto Argonauts in Winnipeg Saturday and next Thursday in Toronto, and close the regular season at home Nov. 2 against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
The quarterback carousel that has led the Winnipeg offence appears to have stopped, for the moment at least, at Max Hall.
The CFL rookie, who turned 28 this month, has completed 97 of 166 passes for 1,197 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions. He finally added a win to his stats Monday in Montreal.
He was one of a pair of CFL rookies the Bombers brought in to watch and learn, with Buck Pierce as their starter and Justin Goltz as his main understudy.
But with Pierce traded and Goltz failing to measure up, Hall found himself taking snaps as the season crashed and burned.
“I fully anticipated having a year to sit, with having Buck and Justin in front of me to start the season,” he said Wednesday.
But things are looking up, he adds, and he hopes the Bombers will want him back in some capacity next season.
“I’m seeing the field better and making the reads faster and I definitely feel more comfortable,” he said.
“I’m making progress, I’m not at the level I’d like to be … I think I made some good steps forward in the last game with Montreal and I’ve just got to keep on going.”
Meanwhile, slotback Aaron Kelly is on the injured list for Saturday and cornerback Jovon Johnson is doubtful. Defensive back Desia Dunn also may not play but that won’t be decided until Thursday, suggests Burke.
Kelly’s absence means Mike Sims-Walker will make his first start at receiver for the Bombers.
Sims-Walker says it’s been hard just watching but Kelly was doing so well he understood why he didn’t get in sooner. He also said he had to learn the differences between the NFL and CFL games.
“He’s shown that he can be a pretty good player,” said Burke.
Avoiding turnovers is key for the Bombers if they want to succeed.
“Absolutely,” says Hall, who points to the mistakes he made when he first stepped into the starter’s spot.
“Now I think I’m kind of eliminating those mistakes and taking care of the football better.”
Clarence Denmark was Hall’s favourite receiver in that Montreal game, when turnovers by the Alouettes (including four interceptions and two fumbles) crippled their offence.
“It feels great,” said Denmark, who caught five passes for 102 yards.
“I feel like once Max gets it going, he’s a great quarterback. We’ve just to go out there and play and try not to make as many mistakes as we have in the past.”
Also strong in that game was running back Will Ford, who added 93 yards, continuing to impress Burke who adds he even blocks well, something the Bombers have needed on offence.
Although Toronto has lost its last two games, it still leads the East and can’t be counted on to turn over the ball six or seven times. Four quarterbacks have thrown a combined total of eight interceptions all season.
“We know Toronto’s got a good defence,” said Ford. “But we’ve got to execute and make plays, just like every week.”
Burke also said it’s unlikely last season’s star running back Chad Simpson will return to the Bombers. He’s been injured this season and as a free agent next season is also expected to try the NFL.