TORONTO -- Barrin Simpson and Co., made sure Michael Bishop's debut was a winning one.
Bishop threw for 213 yards and a touchdown in his first start with Winnipeg, but it was the defence that anchored the Blue Bombers' 13-12 win over Toronto on Saturday afternoon. The unit forced seven turnovers, including Simpson's recovery of a Jamal Robertson fumble on visitors' 20-yard line late in the contest to preserve the tenuous one-point lead.
"That's our mindset every week, get turnovers and make plays, big plays rather than just force two and out all the time," said Simpson. "A lot of times we were backed up and we came up with big plays and big plays win the game for you."
Alexis Serna's 48-yard field goal with 4:05 remaining gave Winnipeg (2-3) its slim margin, but despite its loose play Toronto (2-3) will had a chance to pull out the win. However Jason Medlock's 57-yard field goal try with 19 seconds remaining hit the crossbar, disappointing the sparse gathering of 23,821 with the Rogers Centre roof peeled back on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon.
The attempt came after Toronto was called for a time count violation -- a 10-yard penalty because it came in the final three minutes -- while setting up the potential game-winning 47-yard boot. The Argos still had a timeout, but Argos head coach Bart Andrus didn't use it because he was told Winnipeg had called time to freeze Medlock.
"In retrospect I should've called a timeout," he said. "I was in the wrong position at the end of the bench (talking to Argos receivers).
"It was an unfortunate situation."
Serna's field goal came after Medlock's 35-yard boot put Toronto ahead 12-10 at 4:10 of the fourth.
Winnipeg's ball-hawking defence took a lot of pressure off Bishop, 33, who started for Winnipeg despite having only four practices with the team. The six-foot-one, 215-pound quarterback -- who spent nearly seven seasons in Toronto before being dealt to Saskatchewan in August 2008 -- started strong, leading the Bombers to 10 first-quarter points before succumbing to fatigue and fading noticeably in the second half.
"I was tired in the second quarter," Bishop said. "It (playing) is different from practice because you can pace yourself whereas during a game you have the clock going, guys are hustling to the line of scrimmage and your mind is just racing.
"I was good in the first quarter but that jumped on me in the second quarter. You have to credit our defence for getting the ball. We have to do a better job of putting it into the end zone when they get it for us."
Bishop didn't set the CFL on fire Saturday, completing just 16-of-30 passes. But he certainly fared much better than Stefan LeFors, Richie Williams and Bryan Randall, who combined for just 66 yards passing in Winnipeg's embarrassing 19-5 home loss to Toronto.
It wasn't the first time Bishop has led a team to victory despite limited practice time. Last year he guided Saskatchewan to victory in his Riders debut after only two practices.
Toronto's Kerry Joseph, who was embroiled in a quarterback controversy with Bishop last year, finished 20-of-32 passing for 219 yards and a TD. But he also had four interceptions and lost a fumble while rushing 10 times for 84 yards.
Early on, Bishop was able to move Winnipeg's offence, using his mobility to roll out and effectively buy more time for the Bombers' receivers. And if he didn't see anyone open, Bishop didn't hesitate to head upfield and get what he could while keeping the drive alive.
The former Kansas State star's experience also showed when Toronto attempted to blitz to get pressure on him. He used his feet to evade the rush and was cool in the pocket in making his progressions quickly and throwing the ball away if no receiver was open.
"Young guys, they want to try and fit it in there," he said. "But you definitely need to know when to throw it out of bounds, live to fight another day and let the punt team kick it away."
Winnipeg head coach Mike Kelly scaled back the playbook significantly before the game and again after play began to ease Bishop's workload. But he figures Bishop will be much sharper as he grows into the offence.
"Michael was knocking the rust off as we went along," Kelly said. "He started to lose his legs there a bit but that was something you kind of anticipated.
"Right now, if our defence continues to keep us in games I'm sure we'll see Michael improve each week as he gets more familiar with what we're doing and with our receiving corps."
Toronto twice threatened to go ahead in the third, only to have Winnipeg linebacker Siddeez Shabazz end both drives with interceptions. His first pick came at the Bombers' goal-line -- the Argos still pulled to within 10-9 with the conceded safety at 10:12 -- with the second coming on a ball that deflected off receiver Dovonte Edwards' hands at the Winnipeg 42.
"The way they play with that grit and determination, I think it's a special unit," Kelly said of his defence. "Those guys are keeping us in games right now."
Terrence Edwards had Winnipeg's touchdown. Serna booted the convert and two field goals.
Chad Lucas scored Toronto's touchdown. Medlock added the convert and a field goal.
NOTES -- Bishop spent six-plus seasons and appeared in 100 career games with Toronto before being dealt to Saskatchewan on Aug. 23, 2008 . . . Edwards attended his first CFL training camp with the Argos in 2005 but was injured early and released prior to the start of the regular season . . . Winnipeg's scratches were receiver Adarius Bowman, linebackers Joe Lobendahn and Pierre-Luc Labbe and defensive back Brandon Stewart. For Toronto, receivers Reggie McNeal and James Robinson, tackle Shannon Boatman and defensive tackle Walter Curry didn't dress.