The locker room is typically a cheerful place after a victory, but when the leaders of the Toronto Argonauts came to the podium to address their 31-29 overtime win over the B.C. Lions on Saturday, the tone was much more subdued.
This was a game the Argos barely escaped, but should have won by a much wider margin. Errors in the red zone forced them to settle for five field goals, missed throws on wide open receivers denied them the chance to pull away and clock management almost killed them.
“Those are [mistakes] that Pop Warner kids don’t make,” head coach Ryan Dinwiddie told the assembled media. “We had some throws that could have been there and speaking of Pop Warner, most of those coaches would have been better than me today in the last 44 seconds.”
The first year bench boss learned an important lesson in the dying moments against B.C., one that was nearly driven home by public humiliation. After the Argos blocked a potential go-ahead field goal, the narrow win seemed assured and Dinwiddie called victory formation.
What he forgot was that the Lions still had a chance to stop the clock and Toronto was forced to give their opponent prime field position thanks to a punt with 20 seconds left.
“I totally blew it. We had 44 seconds and I lost track that they had a timeout,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s all on me. I apologized to our guys afterwards. Unfortunately, it was a bad mistake and it could have cost us.”
Fortunately, it didn’t. The Lions shanked a 37-yard game winner, forcing overtime with a loser-point single. Toronto came up with the plays they needed in overtime, but that crucial clock management error still hangs above Dinwiddie’s head.
“I thought I cost us a ballgame and good thing they missed the field goal and we were ready for our way to answer it,” he acknowledged. “That was just a bad mistake by me and could have cost us this opportunity to go to the playoffs and I’m just pretty embarrassed by it.”
He won’t be alone in that regard. Now the undisputed starting quarterback after the team traded Nick Arbuckle to Edmonton at the deadline, McLeod Bethel-Thompson had a night to forget. He was 23-of-37 for just 155 yards, a touchdown and a pick on the night, but it will be a couple of those incomplete passes, deep balls sailed out of reach, that will haunt him.
“I’m going to be embarrassed watching that game film. Three wide open receivers and gimme touchdowns in professional football. You shouldn’t be a starting quarterback if you can’t hit wide open receivers,” a visibly frustrated Bethel-Thompson told reporters. “That’s 21 points. This game is not even close if I hit even two of those. It’s just unacceptable.”
That those deep balls were thrown in the direction of new receivers with whom he had yet to establish chemistry made no difference to the quarterback. Just like Dinwiddie, he has to be better.
“It’s always a factor, but at the end of the day, there’s a wide open receiver right down the field. Worst case, you just put it on his head,” he said, shooting down the question.
“They literally had created 10 yards of separation, if not more. You can’t overthrow a receiver at that point. Just put it on their head and give him a shot. You can use all the excuses in the world, but I won’t do that.”
From his own view in the doghouse of Argos fans, Dinwiddie admitted that the missed throws were crucial errors, but not nearly enough to shake his confidence in the journeyman quarterback. Both head coach and pivot will need to bounce back together and he has no doubt they will.
“Some of those deep balls really could have put the game out of reach. He understands that, he wasn’t happy with himself. Me and him have both got to look in the mirror a little bit and find ways to get better, but he’ll get there,” Dinwiddie insisted. “No one’s gonna work harder than him. I believe in Mac completely.”
That belief will have to carry the team forward, because the mistake-filled victory was enough for Toronto to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2017. Both Dinwiddie and Bethel-Thompson drove home how incredibly fortunate they were to be in that position despite their own performances, with the steely-eyed quarterback saying it best.
“It’s kind of ironic, right? Quarterbacks get all the blame in losses, they get all the credit in wins. Even though I sucked tonight, I guess I’m a playoff quarterback.”