ALL EYES ON NI­CHOLS

Bombers QB is ready for the Rid­ers

Winnipeg Sun - - NEWS - PAUL FRIESEN pfriesen@post­media.com @friesen­sun­media

There was noth­ing ail­ing Matt Ni­chols that a lit­tle wis­dom from Bill Belichick couldn’t help fix.

The Win­nipeg Blue Bombers quar­ter­back has turned his game around, along with the for­tunes of his team, in the last three weeks.

One statis­tic says it all: Over the last three games, Ni­chols has tossed just one in­ter­cep­tion, com­pared to seven picks in the pre­vi­ous three.

On the eve of Satur­day’s crit­i­cal CFL di­vi­sional clash with Saskatchewan, Ni­chols ac­knowl­edged he be­gan ques­tion­ing him­self dur­ing the slump that nearly deep­sixed the Bombers’ sea­son.

“I kind of got lucky and ended up read­ing this thing about Bill Belichick,” Ni­chols said, Fri­day, re­fer­ring to the great coach of the NFL’S Pa­tri­ots. “And how he talks about, ‘Don’t let a neg­a­tive out­come af­fect what you know was a good de­ci­sion.’ I’ve played way more good foot­ball than a cou­ple of bad games. There’s no rea­son for me to ques­tion my prepa­ra­tion or what I do on a daily ba­sis to get ready for games.

“Went through a lit­tle bad stretch, kept do­ing what I do, and got back to play­ing foot­ball I’m used to play­ing.”

Ni­chols likely isn’t for­get­ting he made some bad de­ci­sions along the way. But he’s also chalk­ing some of his trou­bles up to rot­ten luck. Has he shaken both?

His last three games have pro­duced four touch­down passes and just the one in­ter­cep­tion.

With three wins in a row, the 8-7 Bombers take on the 10-5 Rid­ers with a re­newed con­fi­dence, a feel­ing their quar­ter­back didn’t have in their two pre­vi­ous meet­ings, both losses, when he tossed five in­ter­cep­tions to just one touch­down pass.

“When you go through ad­ver­sity, im­me­di­ately your mind starts won­der­ing why,” Ni­chols said. “Ob­vi­ously I have great sup­port around me, coach O’shea and my wife and my team­mates.

They un­der­stand ex­actly what I said: Some­times even when you’re mak­ing the right de­ci­sions, things can go bad for you. You can’t al­low that to change who you are, what you’ve done to get to this point.

“My team­mates de­serve my abil­ity to get past ad­ver­sity and go out and per­form for them and help win foot­ball games. When you un­der­stand that, you can over­come a lot.”

The Bombers aren’t even close to be­ing out of the woods.

A loss Satur­day would throw them right back into the for­est of the un­known, en­tan­gled with Ed­mon­ton and B.C., where a play­off spot can be eas­ily lost.

The mess they’ve cre­ated, let­ting too many games slip away in the sec­ond half, has left the mar­gin of er­ror ra­zor­thin.

But Ni­chols says this team is dif­fer­ent now, and team­mates agree.

“The last three or four weeks now we’ve been a lit­tle more fo­cused, it seems like,” re­ceiver We­ston Dressler said. “Ev­ery lit­tle de­tail counts. We’re start­ing to un­der­stand that and grasp how im­por­tant it is to get ev­ery­thing you can be­fore game time comes around.”

Ni­chols says the Bombers have sim­ply come to­gether as a co­he­sive unit: Of­fence, de­fence and spe­cial teams tak­ing turns be­ing the dif­fer­ence.

“We’re not mak­ing big mis­takes,” he said. “We’ve been good in penal­ties. Just do­ing all the lit­tle things a lit­tle bet­ter than we were when we were los­ing foot­ball games. It’s re­ally those mi­nor de­tails that make all the dif­fer­ence when you’re at this level.”

Ni­chols’ own level will have to stay high over these last three games.

An­other bad game could cost the Bombers their spot in the post-sea­son, and raise all kinds of messy ques­tions in the off-sea­son.

But the same way the bad games snow­balled for a while, Ni­chols, com­ing off prob­a­bly his best game of the sea­son, says the good ones can, too.

“This is the ul­ti­mate mo­men­tum sport,” he said. “Some­times when you go out there you feel like you can’t miss. That’s kind of the way it feels right now.”

Ni­chols can’t af­ford to miss, that’s for sure.

Bad de­ci­sions or not, the out­comes are now all that mat­ter.

He doesn’t need foot­ball’s all-time great coach to tell him that.

KEVIN KING/WIN­NIPEG SUN

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