THE BOMBERS are on a roll. The question now is how far it can take them?
John Worsfold's side put on a Friday night show at Etihad Stadium, beating Sydney by 43 points and claiming their eighth victory in their past 10 games.
Essendon is still outside the top-eight after the effort but are within reach. And few will want to take them on in this type of form and confidence.
BOMBERS BLITZ SWANS Full match coverage and stats
The 15.19 (109) to 10.6 (66) performance was the type expected of the Bombers at the start of the year, when the club aimed for a top-four position. If they don't make the finals the blame can only be placed on themselves, given their underwhelming 2-6 start to the season.
But the turnaround has been impressive, as Essendon got back to what it does best: playing quick, decisive, devastating football of which few can stop.
The kudos on Friday will be evenly distributed internally but Michael Hurley deserves the biggest share.
The two-time All Australian defender has been criticised at times this year for not playing on the opposition's leading forwards, but against the Swans he took on Lance Franklin, who has saved his best for Essendon throughout his career, and the Bomber was the unanimous winner.
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Franklin kicked two goals from just seven disposals, but Hurley also won key contests, provided rebound and lifted his side from the back half. It was one of the defensive games of the season.
Dyson Heppell (31 disposals), Brendon Goddard (22) and Darcy Parish (26) were busy throughout, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti (two goals, eight tackles) was influential and Devon Smith (2.3) put in another exciting game.
Smith and McDonald-Tipungwuti were part of a dynamic forward half that Worsfold praised post-game.
"Everyone is playing the way we're asking them to play: give us a contest, put a lot of heat on the opposition up there, but also grab the opportunities when they're there," Worsfold said.
Just as the Bombers are rising, the Swans are in strife.
Last week's shock loss to Gold Coast sent ripples through the competition, and the back-to-back losses puts them in jeopardy of missing finals for the first time since 2009.
Aliir Aliir's marking in defence was a highlight for Sydney, but there were few other winners in a game that should have had a bigger margin.
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"Just our capacity to compete for four quarters has just dropped off – right off – and we're not willing to pay the price for long enough, anywhere near as much as we should be," coach John Longmire said.
"The example of that is the opposition can have 72 inside 50s and we have 45 tackles. We missed targets and (conceded) turnover goals – there's not much going right, clearly."
An action-packed start made it hard to foresee a blowout. Before the opening bounce Zak Jones was reported for striking Bomber Zach Merrett, and a series of other grapples, wrestles and collisions punctuated the quarter.
Jones was reported a second time for the match in the last term for collecting Kyle Langford with a shoulder to the head. Langford took his kick but left the ground soon after and didn’t return.
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The footy was good, too, and a clever checkside goal to ruckman Callum Sinclair gave the Swans a six-point lead at the first change.
Essendon won the ascendancy early in the second term as they made the most of Aliir's time off the ground with a knee complaint, before Sydney – through unusual goalkickers Nic Newman and Jordan Dawson – struck back.
The Swans went inside-50 just six times for the term but managed to score three goals. Essendon was swamping them, but struggled to make the most of its entries.
However, the last 30 seconds of the quarter saw Worsfold's men get their reward: a plucky bounce gave Conor McKenna a goal, before Mitch Brown slotted a long shot after the half-time siren to give his side a three-point lead at the main break.
Essendon had shut down Franklin. He registered just two disposals in the first half – the fewest of any player on the ground – and he looked lethargic when the ball was in his area.
If they could stop Aliir, who took five intercept marks in Essendon's forward 50 in the first half when the Bombers could manage just three, then a win was on the cards.
They didn't as much contain Aliir in the third term as much as go around him, and when electric small forward McDonald-Tipungwuti snapped brilliantly midway through the quarter the Bombers had jumped to a 17-point lead.
But Franklin was looking more ominous than before.
He had already found his way to the goal sheet earlier in the quarter with a trademark set shot from the pocket, and when he shoved Hurley to the ground later in the term (which drew the ire of Essendon fans and Hurley himself for not being awarded a free kick), his goal put the Swans back within five points.
A steadier from Orazio Fantasia, who had been well held by Nick Smith, just before the final change helped the Bombers to a 12-point break.
There was no stopping them after that, as they peppered the goals and kept the Swans to 0.1 for the term. This is what Essendon promised to be at the start of the season.
Essendon: The Bombers lost Matt Dea to concussion after he landed awkwardly from a marking contest in the first term. He was carried off the field on a stretcher and, as expected, did not return. Kyle Langford received a heavy bump to the head and shoulder in the dying minutes and was forced to leave the field and head to hospital for scans post-game.
Sydney: Harry Cunningham received a corked hip in a marking contest in the second term and limped from the field but returned. Aliir Aliir's knee issue required strapping but he also played out the game. Heath Grundy was ill so needed to be managed through the game.
Essendon takes on Hawthorn next Saturday in another game that will be crucial to its finals bid, whilst Sydney will be hoping for a better performance at the SCG when it hosts Collingwood on Saturday night. The Swans have lost five games at their home ground this year.
ESSENDON 2.3 6.7 11.11 15.19 (109)
SYDNEY 3.3 6.4 10.5 10.6 (66)
Essendon: Brown 2, McDonald-Tipungwuti 2, Baguley 2, Smith 2, Zaharakis, Parish, McKenna, Merrett, Stringer, Fantasia, Myers
Sydney: Franklin 2, Parker, Papley, Sinclair, Heeney, Newman, Dawson, Grundy, Ronke
Essendon: Hurley, Heppell, Myers, Merrett, Parish, Zaharakis
Sydney: Aliir, Lloyd, Kennedy, Heeney, Smith, Parker
Essendon: Dea (concussion), Langford
Reports: Jones (Sydney) for striking Merrett (Essendon) in the first quarter and Jones (Sydney) for rough conduct on Langford (Essendon) in the fourth quarter
Umpires: Schmitt, Hay, Ryan
Official crowd: 42,251