After four straight road losses to open the season, the Bombers got a very big monkey off their back Thursday, defeating the Edmonton Eskimos 23-22 for their first win of the season.
"It's huge for the players and for everybody to get a win," coach Paul LaPolice said as his team moved to 1-4, still in the East cellar.
"(Edmonton's) a team that's 3-1 in the West Division before tonight," he said. "We didn't play great tonight. We made some mistakes but we can play with anybody in the league."
Running back Chad Simpson, who had 73 running yards, another 49 receiving yards and one touchdown, said he drove over to the field thinking the Bombers absolutely needed the win.
"We're happy about this win and we're going to party," he said as his face split into an enormous grin.
The Bombers were buoyed by the 29,533 football-starved fans who packed into Canad Inns Stadium. They screamed and smacked bang sticks together for a deafening roar as quarterback Steven Jyles struggled to keep the Eskimos' offence moving.
Edmonton (3-2) had 333 yards of net offence compared with Winnipeg's 402. Jyles completed 16 of 30 passes for 244 yards. Winnipeg's Alex Brink, meanwhile, went 26 of 38 for 294 yards while picking up 57 rushing yards in his second start since taking over for the injured Buck Pierce.
Brink completed just nine passes in his first start against Toronto after having only a day to prepare for the start. But this time, he had a full week to practice.
"It means a lot to me on a lot of levels," Brink said. "I felt really comfortable out there. The week of prep really helped though."
The Eskimos didn't help their cause with some costly penalties late in the fourth that sapped their forward momentum and took them out of field goal range.
Jyles moved back into range but his fumble on Winnipeg's 28-yard line with seconds remaining sealed the Blue Bombers win.
"It was a dogfight all the way to the end," said Winnipeg's Jovon Johnson, who recovered Jyles' late fumble.
Eskimos coach Kavis Reed said the team needs to put the game behind them and prepare for their next one against Saskatchewan.
"It's an extremely difficult loss but I'm extremely proud of the way this football team played," he said, giving Winnipeg full credit for the hard-fought win.
"We did not find a way of getting the two points and there is no one person that is culpable for that."
It was a complete turnaround from their last meeting when the Eskimos pummelled the Bombers 42-10.
The Bombers got a big lift on the final play of the first half when quarterback Alex Brink found Chris Matthews on a jump ball in the endzone from 40 yards out. Winnipeg went into halftime trailing 14-11.
Edmonton seemed to gain some offensive momentum in the third, scoring another touchdown after three minutes when Jyles hit an open Fred Stamps with a 47-yard pass.
But a flukey play late in the quarter went Winnipeg's way as Mike Renaud's blocked punt ended up in the hands of Bombers defensive back Jeremy McGee, who took it 23 yards.
Simpson carried it over the line a few plays later to end the third quarter with the Eskimos ahead 21-18.
The Bombers moved to within one early in the fourth when Edmonton punter Burke Dales conceded a safety. Reed said it was the right move.
Winnipeg then took the lead on a 27-yard field goal by Justin Palardy at 9:09.
A punt to the end zone brought the Eskimos within one but Jyles couldn't close the gap on the late drive.
Earlier on, Winnipeg had entered the second quarter with a 1-0 lead but Brink threw a costly interception. Edmonton scored a touchdown three plays later when Jyles hit Cary Koch with a 25-yard pass.