Season on Nichols’ shoulders

If Blue have any hope of making playoffs, substitute QB must lead way

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Look, Drew Willy is not going to save this floundering Winnipeg Blue Bombers team.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/09/2015 (2632 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Look, Drew Willy is not going to save this floundering Winnipeg Blue Bombers team.

Neither is returning linebacker Ian Wild, who practised with the team Wednesday. Or linebacker Henoc Muamba, who is visiting Winnipeg today as part of his increasingly weird cross-CFL job search.

What has become increasingly clear with every new airlift Bombers GM Kyle Walters has engineered over the past couple weeks, is what tiny glimmer of hope this team has of turning their moribund season around rests in the hands of the same clowns who dug this 4-8 hole in the first place.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Quarterback Matt Nichols (yellow jersey) and other members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers practise at Investors Group Field Wednesday.

Don’t just take our word for it.

“That’s exactly it. It’s a great point — the solution has to come from us as the players to be accountable for this,” Bombers offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld said Wednesday following his team’s only practice this week in advance of facing the league-leading Calgary Stampeders on Friday night at Investors Group Field.

“We’re the guys on the field out there playing the game and we’re the guys who have to make sure we’re winning those games. We know that as players and we have to put it on ourselves.”

For those of you keeping track at home, the Bombers’ original estimate of how long it would take for their No. 1 quarterback to heal was six to eight weeks. The lower end of that estimate would have had Willy returning this week to face the Stamps. But you just have to watch Willy painfully hobble around IGF — as he was doing again Wednesday — to realize this guy won’t be playing any time soon.

You have to walk before you can run, and right now Willy can barely walk.

Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea insisted Wednesday he remains convinced Willy will play again in 2015.

“I think so and I believe he believes so. It’s a weekly thing,” said O’Shea. “We know he’s making progress. But what it amounts to in the next six weeks remains to be seen.”

Of course, even if Willy does his best Lazarus imitation before season’s end, there won’t be a season to save unless the team starts winning immediately.

The addition of Wild should help, especially on special teams, which hit a new low in a loss to the Montreal Alouettes last weekend when Winnipeg gave up a 78-yard punt-return touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return that set up another Montreal TD.

Muamba concluding his cross-country tour and signing with the Bombers would also be a plus. While Muamba is best remembered in these parts for being Winnipeg’s best defensive player in 2013, he was also the team’s top special-teams player and his return would help turn what’s been a huge liability for the Bombers into potentially an asset.

But at the end of the day, the Bombers could add Wild, Muamba and Jack Lambert (Pittsburgh Steelers legend) to this roster and it wouldn’t do a bit of good unless those linebackers can also play offence.

‘The solution has to come from us as the players to be accountable for this. We’re the guys on the field out there playing the game and we’re the guys who have to make sure we’re winning those games’

— Patrick Neufeld

With Willy still hobbling, that responsibility falls on Matt Nichols, who with another interception Sunday has now thrown a league-worst dozen this season — including two in two games with Winnipeg, plus a pair of fumbles.

Those numbers are not exactly inspiring a lot of confidence in a Bombers turnaround, but you go to war with the army you’ve got, not the one you wish you had. For better or worse — better than Brian Brohm and Robert Marve, worse than Willy — Nichols is the field general who is going to either play this team back into the playoff race or stick a stake through its heart.

“My mindset right now is I’m the starter this week and (Calgary) is probably the best team in the league the last couple years” said Nichols. “They don’t get beat many times, so you have to play a near-perfect game to win.”

That’s a mighty high bar for this crew. But while much of Bombers Nation has no doubt abandoned all hope at this point and turned their attention to the Winnipeg Jets, O’Shea remains convinced his team is still in the playoff hunt.

“No matter what our record is, at the end of the day if we can stay ahead of B.C. and Saskatchewan and catch back up to Montreal, we’re in the playoffs,” said O’Shea. “We’re two points out the playoffs right now…

“I look at it as quite doable.”

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter (retired)

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

History

Updated on Thursday, September 24, 2015 9:04 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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