Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols says his team needs to come out with the same intensity it showed in the second half of last week's 27-24 loss to the Ottawa Redblacks.
It's been a bit of a trend for the Bombers (5-11), coming out soft only to stiffen up and mount a late game comeback attempt. Winnipeg came up three points short last week in Ottawa.
This week, with the backdrop of familiar surroundings at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, the Bombers are seeking revenge in the second leg of a home-and-home with the playoff-bound Redblacks (9-6).
"We need to find a way to come out with that same focus and try to be successful in the first half," Nichols said. "We need to be ready to show up and do what we need to do and put forth our best effort and try and win this football game. This is another must-win, that's how we are looking at it."
Despite their record, the Bombers are in a dogfight with both the B.C. Lions and the Montreal Alouettes (in the crossover position) for the final playoff spot in the Canadian Football League's West Division. A win for the Bombers this week would put them one step closer. And with the Redblacks having already clinched a post-season berth, Nichols said taking a play off, or a drive off, is unacceptable.
"We have to be thinking we can score on every drive," he said. "For us, the mindset is everything that has happened in the past doesn't matter. Our record doesn't matter right now. We're neck and neck in a race with two teams and all that matters is this week."
Execution has been the Achilles heel for the Bombers over the last several weeks, something head coach Mike O'Shea addressed on Friday.
"There's been some execution issues," head coach Mike O'Shea said following his team's pre-game walkthrough Friday. "Whether it's some penalty issues, some drops, some missed assignments — there are points in games, early in games, where they killed drives.
"As a staff, we obviously factor everything we can into making sure we put them, the players, in the best position possible to, and the players work their butts off all week to make sure they execute properly. It all has to come together at the same time."
The Bombers will have to contend with Henry Burris again. The CFL's passing yard leader this season racked up 370 yards and a touchdown during last week's win.
"Henry's playing very well," O'Shea said. "You'd like to get closer to him on more plays. You'd like to be in his eyesight and his vision. You have to get to Henry."
The Blue Bombers could theoretically make the playoffs without winning another game this season. They'd need the Montreal Alouettes and the B.C. Lions to lose all their remaining games.
The Redblacks, meanwhile, clinched their first playoff berth in their second season as a franchise in the CFL. Ottawa, which was expected to arrive in Winnipeg on Friday evening, is looking to find a way to the top of the East Division before season's end.
The Redblacks have won five of their last seven games. A win this week would give Ottawa its first 10-win season since 1978.
NOTES: Jamill Smith will assume kick-returning duties for the Redblacks on Saturday. Smith takes over for Reggie Dunn, who fumbled the ball on the opening drive last week against the Bombers. . . Defensive lineman Zach Anderson sits this week in favour of Leon Mackey, who makes his CFL debut Saturday.
Scott Billeck, The Canadian Press