Saturday’s 32-27 loss was full of emotions for Matt Nichols, and everyone invested in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Nichols was sat down after throwing three interceptions (and two more that were cancelled via penalty) in the first half, two of which were returned for 97 and 103-yard Riders touchdowns.
Chris Streveler started the whole second half and failed to get Winnipeg the two points.
Losing four games in a row, the Bombers are now 5-7.
It is post-Banjo Bowl and the Bombers are shockingly battling for a playoff spot.
Who should start in Week 15 versus the Montreal Alouettes? Was Matt Nichols that bad Saturday? Was Chris Streveler much better?
Let’s dive in.
Matt Nichols’ Banjo Bowl Performance
Nichols took the field for nine drives on Saturday. The Bombers’ first-half starter attempted 23 total passes (three did not count because of penalty), 11 (one did not count because of penalty) of which were completed for 174 yards.
He threw zero touchdowns, which was not concerning. What was concerning was that Nichols tossed five interceptions (two were called back because of penalty), including two pick-sixes from inside the Riders’ red zone.
Drive by Drive
On his first two drives, Nichols attempts six passes, three of which are completions. Four of the six throws are good decisions and accurate, while one is placed behind Mike Miller, and the other a rushed throw and incompletion to Kenbrell Thompkins, who is injured on the play.
On Winnipeg’s fourth offensive drive, they are in a good spot. The score is 10-0 Bombers, there is 13:55 left in the second quarter, and Winnipeg is facing a second-and-four on Saskatchewan’s 13-yard line.
The Riders blitz six defenders towards Winnipeg’s five blockers. Linebacker Samuel Eguavoen, untouched, quickly gets to Nichols, who settles to get rid of the ball to a crossing Andrew Harris. Harris falls as the ball is in the air, but it does not matter.
Saskatchewan’s Willie Jefferson reads Nichols’ panic and backs away, times his jump with the release of the ball, and makes a Jefferson-like play athletically corraling the ball, then goes the other way easily coasting to the Bombers’ end zone.
A horrible outcome for Winnipeg, but not a horrible decision from their quarterback. That being said, another pick-six cannot happen.
Two throws later, Nichols chucks up a jump ball to a streaking Drew Wolitarsky. Saskatchewan’s Ed Gainey is step-for-step with Wolitarsky. Gainey, an elite defensive back, intercepts the ball, but a roughing the passer penalty bails Nichols out.
Minutes later, Nichols is moving the ball. He then overthrows Darvin Adams on a deep corner, who had Gainey beat but proceeds to complete two throws to Adams and Wolitarsky.
Nichols’ afternoon then spirals downwards. After centre Matthias Goossen gets ran over by Makana Henry, Nichols possibly tries to throw the ball away. The ball stays in bounds and goes off Andrew Harris’ hands and into Saskatchewan’s Loucheiz Purifoy’s. The ball has to get out of bounds, but instead, it is a Winnipeg turnover.
It is now Winnipeg’s seventh drive and it is 17-13 in favour of the home team. After two completions, Nichols once again throws up a fifty-fifty ball to Wolitarsky. Gainey is in stride with Wolitarsky and deflects the ball right to Eguavoen. But it is defensive pass interference on Gainey.
Another chance for fifteen.
As boos pour in, Nichols’ next throw is unthinkable.
The Riders rush three. Jefferson smoothly gets past Pat Neufeld and is closing in on Nichols. Nichols executes a side step on Jefferson, which buys the former a little more time.
But Jefferson gets a hold of Nichols, and he underhand throws the ball right to Eguavoen. No Bombers are even near where Nichols aims the ball. Eguavoen returns the ball for six, as Nichols helplessly watches from his knees. A professional athlete can’t throw that ball, and should instead take the sack.
Nichols day is over after one more incompletion to Wolitarsky. He finishes 10/20 for 165 yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions. Including throws negated by penalty, his stat line is 11/23 for 174 yards, zero touchdowns and five interceptions.
Nichols cost his team the lead and momentum after the first half. He is rightfully benched after a horrendous half.
Chris Streveler’s Banjo Bowl Performance
Streveler starts the second half.
His third pass is across the middle to Daniel Petermann, who is surrounded by Riders. The poor decision by Streveler results in Purifoy’s second interception of the game.
Early in the fourth quarter, Streveler gets in a groove. After a Bombers fumble recovery, Streveler goes three of four for 31 yards, leading a 6-play 45-yard touchdown drive. To end the drive, Streveler, under pressure, delivers a beautiful ball over Nick Marshall’s shoulder to an open Petermann in the end zone.
His next drive, Streveler airs a ball out to Adams, who has to stop up a little but hauls it in for a 40-yard gain. Two plays later, Streveler hits an open Petermann over the middle for a first down, but he drops it.
Winnipeg settles for a 21-yard field goal and a 27-26 lead.
The next time Streveler gets the ball, Winnipeg is trailing 29-27 with 2:42 left.
Streveler one-hops a ball to Adams on first down and tries to force a ball over the middle to Wolitarsky on second down, which is incomplete.
But the rookie phenom gets the ball back just 29 seconds later.
On first down, Streveler makes a bad decision, throwing a check down to Nic Demski who is tackled in bounds for a loss of a yard. On second down, Streveler hits Demski again, but it is a seven-yard pass, and Demski is swarmed by Riders in bounds.
It is third-and-five now. Jefferson once again gets in the backfield quick, and Streveler has to scramble and improvise, desperately lobbing up a prayer that is intercepted by Mike Edem.
Streveler gets the ball back once more, but a Jefferson sack eliminates any chance the Bombers had at winning this football game.
Streveler finishes 10 of 20 for 160 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Nichols’ replacement did not fare much better, but it should be noted that Streveler was put in a second-and-6 or more situation eight times, four of which were Streveler’s doing by my opinion.
Week 15 Versus Montreal
Who does Mike O’Shea start at quarterback against the Alouettes on September 21?
With 12 interceptions, Nichols is well over his career-high after just nine games this year. Even more troubling is that during Winnipeg’s four-game losing streak, Nichols has double the interceptions (eight) as touchdown passes (four). He’s still looking for his first 300-yard passing game, too.
The veteran quarterback is mentally shaken. He’s not the Matt Nichols that led Winnipeg to two playoff appearances, most recently a home playoff game just 10 months ago.
O’Shea has to give Nichols another chance or go in a different direction for good.
If the Bombers do indeed turn to Streveler, going back to Nichols is unlikely, and would not be a good idea.
In Week 15, O’Shea should and likely will start Nichols, who will be on an extremely short leash.
With twelve days in between games, the Bombers need to prepare packages, and a full game plan for Streveler but have full confidence that Nichols will get out of his funk and keep Streveler on the bench.
The Last Word
The Bombers are in disarray, and despite other smaller issues, their quarterback play is what’s holding them back.
Weston Dressler and Jermarcus Hardrick should both return to the lineup versus Montreal, solidifying the Bombers offensive starters.
Even after Saturday’s career-low performance, Matt Nichols should start Week 15.
And his job will likely be on the line.
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