Now that Matt Nichols is no longer a Winnipeg Blue Bomber, there are some distasteful, faulty narratives spreading about his four-and-a-half seasons in Winnipeg.
When Winnipeg announced the re-signing of Zach Collaros, the writing was on the wall for Nichols. The team couldn’t afford both, and frankly, Winnipeg’s decision makes sense.
While Collaros’ head injuries make him a slightly bigger risk, when both are at their peak, Collaros is slightly more effective. To no surprise, there’s also an onus to reward the starting quarterback on a championship-winning team during their playoff run.
Collaros earned his payday, but don’t forget who put Winnipeg in a position to hoist the Grey Cup last November.
Nichols Leading the Franchise Turnaround
In 64 starts, Nichols went 40-24 for a 62 per cent winning percentage (including playoffs). He went 1-3 in four playoff games, three of which were on the road.
Since Mike O’Shea became head coach in 2014, Winnipeg’s gone 60-55 for a 52 per cent winning percentage (including playoffs). O’Shea’s 4-3 in the playoffs, six of the seven games being played on the road.
There’s a belief that Winnipeg changed its losing ways once O’Shea came in. While he’s done a fantastic job in his six seasons with the Blue Bombers, Nichols ended the revolving door of quarterbacks which resulted in O’Shea’s first winning season.
Only July 28, 2016, O’Shea gave Nichols the starting reigns over Drew Willy. Nichols already had seven starts as a Blue Bomber under his belt from the 2015 season, going 2-5. But on that July evening in Edmonton, Nichols and Winnipeg began their steady climb.
After defeating the Eskimos, Nichols went on to win his next six games including Winnipeg’s last Labour Day Classic victory. He went 10-4 in 2016, including playoffs.
More than a Game Manager
The term game manager is infuriating on its own because, isn’t every quarterback a game mana— you know what, nevermind.
Anyways, Nichols’ trademark has been efficient play.
Aside from 2018, which was a down year in a sense, Nichols never threw double-digit interceptions in a season with Winnipeg. The year prior Nichols threw for a career-high 4,472 yards, leading Winnipeg to their only home playoff game since the 2011 East Final.
As a Blue Bomber, Nichols completed 1,312 of 1,930 passes for a 68 per cent completion percentage and passed for 14,977 yards, 89 touchdowns, rushed for nine touchdowns, caught one touchdown, and tossed 42 interceptions. Not too shabby.
A November Baller
The most simple-minded Matt Nichols narrative is that “he couldn’t win the big one.” Sure, his 1-3 playoff record is hard proof he didn’t even reach a Grey Cup. But in a game where 90 players touch the field, it’s asinine to fault an individual for three gut-wrenching losses.
If you give Zach Collaros, an individual, all the glory for “winning the big one,” then examining individual performances becomes a double-edged sword.
Here are Nichols’ game-by-game playoff statistics:
2016 West Semi-final at B.C.: 26/40, 390 YDS, 2 TD, 0 INT (loss)
2017 West Semi-final vs. Edmonton: 35/48, 371 YDS, 3 TD, 0 INT (loss)
2018 West Semi-final at Saskatchewan: 16/22, 169 YDS, 1 TD 0 INT (win)
2018 West Final at Calgary: 15/32, 156 YDS, 0 TD, 0 INT (loss)
Total: 92/142, 1086 YDS (271.5 YDS per game), 6 TD, 0 INT
Here are Collaros’ game-by-game playoff statistics:
2019 West Semi-final at Calgary: 11/21, 193 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT (win)
2019 West Final at Saskatchewan: 17/25, 267 YDS 1 TD 0 INT (win)
2019 Grey Cup vs. Hamilton: 17/23, 160 YDS, 0 TD, 0 INT (win)
Total: 45/69, 620 YDS (206.6 YDS per game), 2 TD, 0 INT
Nichols’ numbers are better, straight up. It’s almost like team play matters in football.
In Nichols’ three losses, his defences surrendered an average of 430 yards against per game and generated two total takeaways. In Collaros’ three wins, his defences surrendered an average of 340 yards against per game and generated 16 takeaways.
If the individual statistics didn’t make you scratch your head, the defensive ones are a massive indicator as to what went wrong in Nichols’ starts and what went right in Collaros’.
So don’t ever say Nichols isn’t a playoff performer, point the finger at his porous defences.
Appreciating Matt Nichols
I’m not afraid to say I’m a fan of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. But I’ll also criticize their players, coaching, or organization when deserving so and I don’t let any bias influence what I think or write.
With that said, I can confidently say Matt Nichols is the best Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback I’ve seen in my life. I realize there have been multiple greats before him, but I’m too young to even remember the Khari Jones era. So as of today, Nichols is my first.
If you have any sense of pride and loyalty toward Winnipeg, thank Matt Nichols for what he’s meant to this organization and city. He’s a Grey Cup champion who played a massive role in ending Winnipeg’s 29 years without a title.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images