Nichols out for the season, team focuses on bounce-back
Matt Nichols has taken his last snap for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2019.
Late Friday afternoon Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea issued a statement that not only impacts the club’s quarterback depth chart, but the quest for a home playoff game and the pursuit of a Grey Cup championship.
“Matt Nichols sustained a significant shoulder injury in Week 10 from which he has been diligently rehabbing to try and avoid season-ending surgery and return to the playing field. After rehabbing conservatively for a period of six weeks, it was determined by the medical team that surgery would be required and a return to the field this season would not be possible. Nichols underwent successful surgery this afternoon.”
The news is massive for the Bombers as there had been the outside hope Nichols might still be available to return for a late-season push after suffering the shoulder injury on a hit from Shawn Lemon in a win over the B.C. Lions on August 15th.
Instead, there is now no doubt this is Chris Streveler’s offence to run through the playoffs, with Sean McGuire officially now the No. 2 pivot. The Bombers third quarterback, former University of New Hampshire star Trevor Knight, was just added to the practice roster this week and currently it is unlikely another pivot will be added.
Nichols, 32, brought considerable experience and leadership to the huddle that will be dearly missed. The Bombers were 7-2 while he was at the controls this season, as he had thrown for 1,936 yards with 15 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
The Bombers are 39-21 in games Nichols started dating back to the trade that brought him here from the Edmonton Eskimos in September of 2015, and an impressive 37-16 since he replaced Drew Willy as the No. 1 starter in late July of 2016.
What the Bombers have in Streveler, meanwhile, is still being determined. The 24-year-old second-year pro has established himself as the most dangerous running threat QB in the Canadian Football League, having already rushed for 12 touchdowns this year – a Bombers record and just two shy of the league mark. His 490 yards along the ground ranks sixth in the CFL.
The club is 2-2 this year in the four games since he replaced Nichols, but could very easily be a perfect 4-0 if the team had been able to protect late leads against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Labour Day Classic and in last week’s loss to the Alouettes in Montreal.
Streveler’s passing numbers are modest – he has yet to eclipse the 200-yard mark in a game – but are steadily improving. In his last three games he has completed 74.6% of his passes with four touchdowns against three interceptions.
“I feel more and more comfortable each week,” said Streveler Thursday, before the news on Nichols became official. “I’m getting more reps with those guys out there, getting more game reps. As a young player, especially a quarterback, I feel any time you get practice reps and game reps you continue to learn from those.
“I felt like every week I continue to take steps in terms of identifying things and getting through progressions. I just need to continue to take steps forward, though. There was definitely some stuff last game I really wanted to clean up this week and hopefully I can do that.
“I’ve gotten the help of some great coaches and great teammates that have made that process just that much easier. I’m really thankful for all those guys who continue to push me every day and help get the most out of me and help me progress forward.”
More notes and quotes from the Bombers final media availability before Friday’s home game against Hamilton…
The Bombers gulped down the medicine this week – reluctantly, but also heartily. And now we’ll find out if the heavy dosage of self-reflection and film study in the wake of last weekend’s crushing loss in Montreal is the remedy as they attempt to find their mojo again Friday night at IG Field against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we swallowed it,” began Willie Jefferson. “We’re ready for this week and just trying to move forward.”
There were undoubtedly a lot of emotional and physical scars still evident when the Bombers returned to work this week following the 38-37 loss to the Alouettes that saw them surrender the biggest lead in franchise history – a 24-point first-half advantage which was also 20 points heading into the fourth quarter.
The Bombers have been dutifully saying all the right things since then, but the evidence of how effective this has all been won’t be shown until they step on the field against the Ticats.
Still, Jefferson & Co. have liked what they’ve seen over the last few days.
“A lot of resiliency,” said Jefferson. “Day 1 when we came out here I made an instance to tell the guys, ‘We can’t let that happen again. We were up by so much and to do what we did the way we did in the fourth quarter to let Montreal come back, that’s just something we can’t allow to happen moving forward.’
“A lot of the guys are upset about the way that we lost, about the way the way we let Montreal come back. But it’s football. You’ve got to let stuff like that go. You don’t want to go into the new week against a different opponent thinking about what you did last week against somebody.”
The Bombers have home games left against Hamilton, Montreal and Calgary and are on the road to Saskatchewan and Calgary. They are tied with the Stampeders for first in the West at 9-4, two points up on the Roughriders, who are 8-4.
“A few of our losses are maybe what you would characterize as ugly losses,” said safety Jeff Hecht earlier this week. “And every time you sit back and as a CFL fan you say after 13 games you’re going to be tied for first place, would you take it? Every GM and head coach in the league would take that.
“So, we’re in a good spot. We control our own destiny. We have five very important games coming up, so as bad as it was, we’re not 4-9. We need to put ourselves in a better situation in these last five to secure our next goal, which would be a home playoff game.”
The Bombers are 6-0 at home this season and on a nine-game home unbeaten streak dating back to last September. The club is also 18-6 at IG Field since 2017.
“There are a few things that come to mind,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea when asked for his take on that run. “As players, the routine you’re in… where you’re sleeping, where you’re eating, your kitchen, your fridge and then add in a great place to play with unbelievable fans that are passionate and knowledgeable.
“They take a lot of pride in trying to affect the game, which having them on your side is obviously very important to us.”
The Bombers have made three changes to their 46-man roster this week, with the biggest being the return of DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat had three sacks in seven games and was having a solid season before suffering an injury in the loss in Toronto in early August.
“I’m looking forward not only to his play, but his leadership, too,” said O’Shea. “He’s got good focus on how we need to play.”
Jeffcoat replaces DE Craig Roh on the roster. Roh, along with OL Geoff Gray were moved to the one-game injured list with OL Tui Eli shifted to the practice roster. Also added were OL Cody Speller and LB Brandon Calver.