By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – Quarterbacks Matt Nichols and Johnny Manziel have a lot to prove tonight.
Nichols wants to help end the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ four-game losing skid with a victory over Manziel and his Montreal Alouettes, and ensure he doesn’t get pulled at halftime like he did in a 32-27 loss to Saskatchewan on Sept. 8.
Manziel will try to show that he deserves to play more as he gets his third CFL start after recovering from a concussion in August and the flu last week.
Nichols threw three interceptions in the loss to the Roughriders, with two more not counting because of penalties.
Getting yanked was an experience the veteran pivot doesn’t want to repeat and he had a “great” week of practice.
“I don’t know if it lit extra fire, but obviously it was a feeling that I hadn’t had in a long, long time, and one that I definitely don’t want again,” Nichols said after Thursday’s walk-through.
“I’ve always said the past is the past. Sometimes it’s easier to say it and harder to actually have your mind believe it.”
Manziel was traded to Montreal from Hamilton on July 22. He last played on Aug. 11 when he suffered a concussion in a game against Ottawa. The former Heisman Trophy winner backed up Antonio Pipkin the past two weeks, but said last week that he could have played.
“Obviously, I might have let my frustration get the better of me,” Manziel said after arriving in Winnipeg.
“I could have kept that in and kept that as a private matter, but nevertheless I want to play and (am) here to play and I came up here to play. ”
Manziel is 0-2 in his starts, completing a total of 27 of 46 pass attempts for 272 yards and four interceptions. The picks were all thrown in his CFL debut, a 50-11 loss to the Tiger-Cats.
Pipkin is 2-2 as a starter. Montreal (3-9) is coming off a loss to the B.C. Lions, a game in which Pipkin threw four interceptions.
Even though Manziel’s NFL career with the Cleveland Browns flamed out and his off-field troubles kept making headlines, he’s feeling pretty good about his comeback.
“Personally, on and off the field, I’ve come a long way from December of 2015 and the last time I was on a football team and walking onto a football field,” he said.
“It’s been an interesting journey. It’s taken a lot to get here, a lot of people here on the outside. Life’s changed a lot for me, but I’m happy with where I’m at and glad to be back to football.”
His reputation of being a talented, mobile quarterback who can burn defences has stuck with the former Texas A&M star, even though his body of CFL work is small.
“There isn’t a lot of film out there, but his reputation precedes himself,” Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill said. “We know he’s capable of extending plays and doing a lot of things with his legs.”
The outcome of Friday’s game could have big implications on Winnipeg’s quest to make the playoffs. The Bombers (5-7) are in fifth place in the West Division behind the B.C. Lions (5-6).
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea acknowledged a loss might make it “a little more difficult” to qualify for the post-season.
“In all these games we’ve had very good opportunities to change the outcome, but we maybe haven’t made the most of those opportunities,” O’Shea said of the losing streak.
The Bombers are coming off a bye week and Nichols has tried to forget his last game, where he went 10-for-20 for 165 yards, no touchdowns and the three picks before being replaced by Chris Streveler.
“I’ve done a good job this week, especially during bye week … understanding the few mistakes, forgiving yourself, moving on, not allowing those things to be extra weight on you,” Nichols said.
MONTREAL (3-9) AT WINNIPEG (5-7)
Friday, Investors Group Field
ROTATING PIVOTS: Johnny Manziel’s turn under centre will be the sixth time the Alouettes have changed their starting pivot from the previous game, the most in one season since 1999.
BACK IN THE FOLD: The Bombers will have two key offensive players back from injuries. Receiver Weston Dressler returns after missing four games and offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick is back after sitting out three.
LOOMING MILESTONE: Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris needs 16 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his career.