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CFL Preview - Winnipeg (0-1) at Montreal (0-1)



From The Sports Network

By Gregg Xenakes, CFL Editor

DATE & TIME: Friday, July 6, 7:00 p.m. (et).

GAME NOTES: With the prospect of losing the first two games of the 2012 season a reality for one team this week, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Montreal Alouettes both try to put their best foot forward on Friday night at Stade Percival-Molson Stadium.

Winnipeg, which lost to British Columbia in the 99th Grey Cup last season at BC Place, was back in the same building to kick off the new season last week and unfortunately suffered a similar fate in a 33-16 setback to the Lions. Taking a loss is tough enough, but losing a starting quarterback less than 30 minutes into the season might be even more troubling, and that was the case for the Bombers and Buck Pierce.

Even though he finished with more interceptions (18) than passing touchdowns (14) last season as he connected on 63.5 percent of his attempts, Pierce was supposed to be the guy that the Blue Bombers were going to lean on all season long. However, late in the second quarter against BC he suffered a lower-leg injury and never returned.

Up until that point, Pierce had been largely ineffective as he completed just three of his nine pass attempts for a total of 11 yards, while being sacked four times. Backup Alex Brink came on and finished the night 14-of-26 for 121 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but by then the Lions were running on all cylinders and were not going to be caught.

Pierce and Brink combined for 42 of their team's 72 rushing yards, but you can be sure that head coach Paul LaPolice will try to keep his quarterback, whomever that might be, out of harm's way for the time being.

It was assumed that even though Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo had not played a significant role in the preseason games for the Alouettes, he would be more than ready to get the regular season off on the right foot, but that simply wasn't the case on Sunday. In fact, Calvillo connected on barely 50 percent (16-of-31) of his pass attempts and was limited to just 174 yards and a single major, compared to a pair of interceptions as he and the Als were dealt a 38-10 loss at Calgary.

Last season, Calvillo tossed a total of only eight picks and had more than one in just a single game, so already he is having to dig himself out of a statistical hole.

Jamel Richardson, the league's leading receiver from a year ago after putting up a staggering and career-best 112 catches for 1,777 yards and 11 touchdowns, finished with five grabs for 78 yards versus Calgary. The lone major for the Als in the opener came from Brian Bratton, who recorded two catches for 45 yards.

Working against the Alouettes as they get set to play their home opener is a short week in terms of practice and preparation. Head coach Marc Trestman also acknowledges that the roster is filled with new faces and they may take some time to gel together, something that was evident in the season opener.

If anyone can get ready in time to play it is Calvillo who has seen it all since joining the CFL's Las Vegas Posse back in 1994. It took a few years for Calvillo to get his footing in the league, but since 2000 he has thrown for less than 4,200 yards only twice. Granted, the league's all-time leader in passing yards (73,586) and touchdowns (419) did complete just 61.8 percent of his attempts a year ago, which was his lowest since 2003, but there is something to be said for being able to place your confidence in a proven winner and that's what the Als have going in their favor.

Dating back to 1946, and taking into account only regular season matchups, Montreal currently owns a 43-34-2 edge in the series against the Bombers, although Winnipeg has won two of the last three encounters, including a narrow 26-25 final in late October of last year.

The clubs have three more dates with each other remaining on the schedule after this week, the next coming on August 3 in Winnipeg.

The last time the Alouettes opened the season with a loss on the road was two years ago and the final result several months later was a win in the Grey Cup, so maybe shaking off the rust here early on isn't such a bad thing for Calvillo and Montreal.

Losing a game or two this early may not kill an entire season, but not knowing what is going on with your quarterback is not how you want to be moving forward, and that's where the Bombers are right now.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Montreal 32, Winnipeg 17

07/04 11:35:52 ET