07/20/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/21/2019 17:07
It's become a familiar scene lately - a raucous Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker room after another win - and Kenny Lawler was lounging in a chair watching it all unfold.
This was a good 30 minutes after the Bombers had put the finishing touches on a dominating 31-1 win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS Friday night at IG Field, after Matt Nichols and Willie Jefferson media scrums and as some players had already showered and were preparing to exit.
Lawler, meanwhile, was still in his full gear - everything but his helmet - and stationed just a few feet away from his locker.
'I'm just chilling, taking it easy and soaking this all in,' he began with a grin. 'All of this… it's just a blessing for me, truly a blessing.'
Lawler was one of many Bombers who played a role in the team improving to 5-0 across all three phases, among them:.
'An NFL preseason game (he was with the Seattle Seahawks) against Oakland. Late one, to help win the game,' said Lawler. 'So man, it feels good to be back in that end zone because it's been such a long time. And this felt even better. To be active (on the roster) during the season… this is my third active start as a professional. As I said, it's truly a blessing.'
Asked what it was like to be a part of a record-breaking night by Nichols, Lawler smiled again.
'For me, it's a great feeling to be a part of not only that, but just this team,' he said. 'Look around… we've got so many great players on this team that are selfless. It's something special. We just want to keep this rolling.'
More on the Bombers fifth straight win - the third-best start to a season after the 1960 team opened 10-0 and the 1939 squad went 8-0 - in our weekly post-game collection of notes and quotes we call UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
MATT NICHOLS MOVED PAST DIETER BROCK…in establishing a new Bombers record for consecutive pass completions Friday. He's at 19 consecutive, a streak which he will take into this week's game in Hamilton.
As we noted in the game recap, that's just four shy of tying the record of 23 consecutive, set by Jeremiah Masoli of the Tiger-Cats in a game against Edmonton in 2016. It's also the fourth-longest streak in CFL history after Jason Maas (22) and Ricky Ray (20), both of the Eskimos.
But while Nichols did the 'it's a team honour' thing afterward when pressed by reporters about the accomplishment, those who work closely with him were effusive in their praise.
'He was on point today,' said Andrew Harris. 'He works so hard on his craft. He comes in every week regardless of the outcome, regardless of how he's feeling and he attacks the game every week the same way. He's a great pro to be around, a great friend to have in the locker room and he's an even better guy off the field.'
There was an awkward moment in the game when the scoreboard cameras zoomed in on Nichols as the record was being announced, but he couldn't hear what was being said.
'It's a big accomplishment,' added Harris. 'It's funny, though, because I went up to him and said, 'Congratulations.' And he said, 'I don't even know what I did.' It's funny. He kind of thinks the same as me: the acknowledgements are great to him, but he doesn't really get caught up in them. I'm proud of him and it just shows how well he prepares.'
'It's pretty cool,' said left tackle Stanley Bryant. 'Matt's been doing a great job all season and we've been keeping him upright. And we know what he is capable of when we keep him upright - he can stretch the field and make plays with his arm.
'Every day he comes in every day ready to work. First one here, probably the last one to leave. He's been grinding ever since he got here and he's been a big part of the growth we've had every year.'
FYI, NICHOLS WAS ALSO ASKED TO WEIGH IN ON…how things have changed in a year. Remember it was in August of last year when he heard boos in a game against Ottawa. Fast forward to the present and Nichols - who is now 43-26 as a starter in his career, including a 35-14 record since replacing Drew Willy in late July of 2016 - was receiving a standing ovation.
'I don't think about last year or anything in the past,' he said. 'It was an awesome atmosphere out there tonight. Our fans were going nuts at the right moments and getting our defence fired up and when we made big plays on offence you hear that eruption… it just brings energy to the building.
'It's great playing in front of this fan base and the buzz around the city, getting stopped by everyone everywhere you go telling you how excited they are, it's a great place to play football.'
THE BOMBERS COMPLIMENTARY FOOTBALL OF LATE…is best represented by the work of all three phases, from the kick-return score against Toronto, to the work of Nichols & Co. and throughout the first five games, the dominance of the defence.
Remember, too, the last three wins have come without Adam Bighill. And perhaps there's no better evaluators of the Bombers 'D' than the men who practise against them every day.
'We've got to go against those guys every week in practice and we understand how good they are and how they great they are as a group,' said Harris. 'They really show it week in and week out and it makes it tough for any opposing offence… all-round, from the line to the linebackers to the secondary there's a bunch of ballers on that defence.'
'Our defence is playing unbelievable,' Nichols added. 'I talk about this all the time that I play against them every week in practice and they can frustrate us sometimes in practice. They're a good bunch, well coached with a lot of veteran guys that are very talented football players. Every time I see our defence out there I'm definitely very happy that I don't have to worry about going against Willie any more… Even watching him getting announced in pre-game when he came out of the tunnel I was like, 'I'm so happy he's on my team.'
'Our whole defence is playing great and making it easier on us, especially when our first two drives weren't the greatest and then Winston Rose has the Pick-6 to get us jump-started. It's one of those things where we feel as a team we've got each other's backs regardless of what's going on.'
ONE OF THE BOMBERS 'QUIET' OFF-SEASON ADDITIONS…was Winston Rose, the young cornerback who tied for the league lead in interceptions with five, but did not have his contract renewed by the B.C. Lions. Rose already has three picks for the Bombers in five games, including the critical TD return Friday night.
Rose credited the play to something they had seen on film and prepared for all week in practice.
'I just jumped it and the rest was history,' he said with a grin and a shrug. 'We all want to play complimentary football… offence, defence, special teams all play a part. If offence starts slow, the defence will pick it up. If defence starts slow, then special teams and offence will pick it up. That's exactly what happened. We got it started, the offence got rolling and what the special teams did was icing on top.'
Rose hinted that the defence is still just developing chemistry.
'We're just getting started,' he said. 'I said it before the season started, we have a special group. I don't want to jinx us and I don't want to talk too highly about us, but everyone is starting to see what this defence is all about. There's more to come.'
AND, FINALLY…you wouldn't expect any different from this crew, but even in the wake of another dominating performance there was talk about still finding another gear.
'It's fun. We're winning. It's good,' said Harris. 'But… I don't know for some reason I'm just waiting for us to have that game where everything just clicks. Obviously winning is important and that's what you want in this league and in this game, but I still feel like we've got some left in the tank. We're just striving for that game where everything goes all out.
'That's what it is - you want to peak at the right time and keep getting better every week and that's exactly what we're doing.'