Labour Day letdown: nine thoughts on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ 41-28 loss to Toronto

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats lost to the Toronto Argonauts in the 52nd Labour Day Classic on Monday afternoon by a score of 41-28. Below are my thoughts on the game.

Definition of insanity

The Ticats’ defence was once again horrendous, continuing a season-long trend that began all the way back in Week 1.

Hamilton allowed 41 points on Monday, which marks the second time they’ve surrendered more than 40 this season. The Ticats have now allowed 302 points through 11 games, tied for the most in the league with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. All seven of their losses have come by at least 11 points and they’ve allowed 30 or more five times in 11 games.

The club’s inability to start games reared its ugly head once again as the Argos jumped out to a 17-0 lead after just 13 minutes. They also ended the game just as poorly as they started, allowing four Argos’ scoring drives to close out the contest.

You can’t look at Hamilton’s defence and say it lacks talent. Perhaps they’re too old in some spots but a unit that has Dylan Wynn, Casey Sayles, Chris Edwards, and Jameer Thurman shouldn’t be this bad.

Yet here we are, with a defence that can’t stop the run, can’t defend the pass, and can’t stop teams from piling up points. Sure, the offence bears some responsibility for the team’s disappointing season but it’s unreasonable to ask them to score 30 points each week.

Tommy Condell sheltered a lot of people from blame for Hamilton’s poor season but with Condell no longer part of the coaching staff, those gazes that went his way should now be aimed squarely at defensive coordinator Mark Washington.

Home Alone with the Butler

The list of positives from Monday’s loss certainly isn’t a long one.

Receiver and return specialist Tyreik McAllister did his best to provide a spark with three kickoff returns for 40-plus yards and a long of 62. He didn’t add much to the passing game with four receptions for 26 yards but he did what he could to give the offence good field position for most of the afternoon.

Running back James Butler continued his recent run of strong play, finishing the game with 91 yards from scrimmage on 16 touches. He also had one of the few highlight moments with his hurdling and stiff-arming run in the second quarter.

Butler has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary following the change at offensive coordinator, as he has seen his role increase over the last three weeks. Butler will need to continue being a focal point as he provides one of the few positives on a weekly basis.

Powell poor performance

Despite what the stat line might say, Ticats’ quarterback Taylor Powell did not play well on Monday.

The rookie completed 71 percent of his passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. In a vacuum, those numbers are good but they also mask what was ultimately an underwhelming performance.

Powell was erratic with his throws, missing a number of targets high. He didn’t appear to feel comfortable in the pocket, even when it was clean. He also rushed some throws, made some questionable decisions, held the ball too long more than a few times, and seemed indecisive as he was scrambling.

It was far from the worst quarterbacking performance we’ve seen this year from the team but the expectation was that Powell would continue to improve with more starts. Though he certainly isn’t regressing, he failed to take that next step on Monday.

Receiving praise

It wasn’t a hallmark day for the Tiger-Cats’ receiving corps but they did get a pair of decent performances out of Tim White and Terry Godwin.

White finished with a game-high eight catches and 110 yards and found the end zone for the first time since Week 6, while Godwin caught six passes on a game-high 11 targets for 50 yards and two touchdowns.

These numbers might feel like empty calories given the one-sided nature of the game but seeing a pair of young receivers lead the way gave the sold-out crowd of 25,318 something to be happy about.

Wash, rinse, repeat

The short-term new coach bump I expected when Scott Milanovich replaced Tommy Condell lasted all of one week as the Tiger-Cats went back to being the same offensive unit it was under their former play-caller.

The game plan against Toronto felt awfully similar to the one that worked against the Lions but the Argos seemed to figure it out quickly, putting a stop to it much quicker than B.C. did a week ago.

The Ticats put 13 points on the board before a pair of late scores made the final look a little less embarrassing. However, this felt like the same uninspired and out-matched unit we saw during Condell’s run earlier this season.

Blaming the former coordinator for all the problems on the offensive side of the ball was always foolish. As the offence continues to be exactly what it’s been all season, it becomes more and more obvious that the problems didn’t end when the much-maligned former play-caller was shown the door.

Heist of the century

There have been a lot of lopsided trades in CFL history but the one that sent Chad Kelly to Toronto is quickly becoming a contender for the top spot.

The Argos snagged the rights to Kelly when they dealt Nick Arbuckle to the Edmonton Elks in 2021. The Argos also received a conditional draft pick that they used to select Deionte Knight out of Western. While Knight hasn’t yet become an every-down player, Kelly was a king’s ransom all on his own.

The 29-year-old was rather pedestrian against the Ticats in his first Labour Day Classic start, throwing for just 201 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. He added a rushing score as well and even if he didn’t light the world on fire, he’s been all that and then some in his first season as QB1 in Toronto.

While some will argue Zach Collaros and others will stump for Vernon Adams Jr., the case for Kelly as the league’s top player this season is an easy one to make. His numbers are just as good as the players listed above, he’s shown he’s able to elevate those around him, and he’s helped lead the Argos to a league-best 9-1 record.

I was as skeptical as anyone about Kelly’s prospects but he has proven to be worth all the offseason hype he generated and fully deserves the monster contract extension he signed with the Argos last week. If No. 12 continues to be this type of player, the Argos are going to be at the top of the league for an extended period of time.

Facts over feelings

Monday’s loss marked just the third time in franchise history that the Tiger-Cats lost back-to-back Labour Day Classics, and the first time since losing three in a row from 2006 to 2008.

This loss was also the first time the Ticats allowed 40 or more points on Labour Day since 2006. The 41 points Hamilton surrendered were the most since 1997 when the Doug Flutie-led Argos decimated Steeltown 46-3.

Hamilton still owns an excellent 36-15-1 all-time record against Toronto on Labour Day but that’s little solace after losing by double-digit points for the second year in a row.

Start time stupidity

Late start times for weekday games suck.

Today’s game kicked off just after 3:30 p.m. EDT, which pushed the kickoff for the western half of the doubleheader between Edmonton and Calgary to 7:00 p.m. EDT. Given that this is a marquee event on the CFL calendar and the final Monday the league has before the NFL takes it over, I understand the desire to put these games as close to primetime as possible from a television perspective.

But unlike Thursday Night Football, Labour Day is not a made-for-TV event. These games sell themselves and will be watched in an earlier time slot, like the more traditional 1:00 p.m. EDT and 4:30 p.m. EDT kickoffs of past years.

Hamilton flirted with much later start times a few years ago and while it was a novel approach, branding it “Football Day in Hamilton” and pairing the game with a McMaster contest, it also led to a Labour Day game in 2017 that didn’t end until nearly midnight thanks to a two-hour-plus weather delay.

The CFL needs to figure out what it wants to be: is it a live event business or a television business? If they are the former, then cater to the paying fans. If they are the latter, then go all-in on better TV start times for those who watch from home.

These half-measures have been met with anger and frustration, even if they come at different times of the season and for different reasons. The CFL simply needs to pick a lane and stick to it.

Up next

There’s no rest for the defeated as the Ticats (4-7) have a ludicrously quick turnaround as they’ll face the rested Ottawa Redblacks (3-8) on Friday night.

Days between games have been a contentious issue this season, with some former players saying only nerds with keyboards care about them, while others say this is another example of the league paying nothing more than lip service to player safety.

Having one side play a game on three days of rest while the other has had 11 days off is a dangerous and unnecessary scheduling error that cannot and should not ever be repeated.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.