Heading in to Week Six of the CFL season, few figured that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a chance against the Edmonton Eskimos. The Bombers were 1-4 on the year while the Eskimos were 2-2, Winnipeg hadn't won in Edmonton since 2006, and the Eskimos were playing at home and coming off the worst blown lead in team history. All of that should have provided plenty of motivation to go beat up on Winnipeg. Instead, though, it wound up being a glorious 30-23 victory for the Bombers, and a large part of that was thanks to a former Eskimos' quarterback: Matt Nichols.
This wasn't a start many would have envisioned for Nichols at the start of the year, as the majority figured that Winnipeg's year-beginning quarterback Drew Willy would finally find the success many had predicted for him for years thanks to the Bombers' upgrades at receiver, running back, and offensive line. Willy struggled through the first five weeks, though, and that forced Winnipeg head coach Mike O'Shea to make the change to Nichols. Nichols only came to the Bombers as a backup for the injured Willy last year, and he hadn't shown a ton to suggest he deserved a spot as a starting CFL quarterback, but he certainly came through in a big way Thursday night.
On the evening, Nichols threw for 304 yards and a touchdown, but what was really impressive was his efficiency. He completed 26 of his 33 pass attempts on the night, a staggering 78.8 per cent. That's a long ways ahead of the 71.7 per cent Willy had posted so far this year, which was itself inflated by garbage-time stats. Granted, Nichols got some help, as running back Andrew Harris had his best game of the season (22 carries for 127 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry), receivers Darvin Adams and Weston Dressler had great days (10 catches for 121 yards and six catches for 111 respectively), and the offensive line had perhaps its best day of the year. Still, this was an incredibly impressive showing from Nichols, and it suggested that this Winnipeg team might achieve some of its potential with him under centre.
It's worth pointing out just how unusual a win in Edmonton was for these Bombers, too. The last one they recorded there came on this legendary pass from Kevin Glenn to Milt Stegall in 2006:
This result does carry a lot of concerns for the Eskimos. They should have been incredibly fired up after last week's blown lead against Hamilton, but instead, they came out very flat. Their defence repeated some of the struggles it had shown to this point, and their offence struggled too. While Edmonton QB Mike Reilly completed 28 of 43 passes (65.1 per cent) on the night and threw for 346 yards with one touchdown and one interception (improving his status on the short list of QBs with consecutive 300-yard passing games in the process; he tied Anthony Calvillo, and now sits behind only Kent Austin and Sam Etcheverry), many of those yards came after the game was already decided. When it was still up for grabs, the Eskimos couldn't move the chains.
Last week's loss was concerning enough for Edmonton, but it came against a good team and came thanks to a historic comeback. There are no such excuses this time around; this is a result that will lead to plenty of jubilation for Bombers' fans, but it should motivate some soul-searching amongst Eskimos fans. The quarterback they traded for a conditional seventh-round pick last year did a nice job of taking them apart Thursday. Now that's a Nicholsback, and one that might motivate Edmonton to burn it to the ground.