The Argos are making history (& 15 other thoughts on Toronto’s East-clinching win over Montreal)

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The Toronto Argonauts have moved to 11-1 for the first time in franchise history and clinched first place in the East Division with a thrilling 23-20 win over the Montreal Alouettes on Friday night.

Here are my thoughts on the game.

Playoff atmosphere
This game had a playoff atmosphere, which may be hugely beneficial to Toronto down the road. The Argonauts have not been in many tight games recently. Chad Kelly is two-for-two in come-from-behind, fourth-quarter wins this season, both of which came in Montreal.

If Toronto had clinched first place in the East Division with a blowout win, they may have gone into the playoffs never having truly been tested in a pressure situation. This was an intense, physical win, but the kind that builds character and brings a team closer together.

Anything you can do I can do better
This was a great game to watch in terms of coaching adjustments. The Argonauts ran the ball successfully in the first quarter, but the Alouettes adjusted by putting both middle linebackers, Avery Williams and Darnel Sankey, on the field together. The Argos countered that adjustment in the fourth quarter by transitioning to an outside rushing attack.

Defensively, Toronto stymied Montreal in the first half by taking away both the deep pass and the screen game while generating pressure. Montreal adjusted in the second half by transitioning to a quick passing game that attacked the middle of the field, which Toronto attempted to counter in the fourth quarter by sitting Jordan Williams and Wynton McManis on the hashmarks ten yards downfield.

The gambler
I generally view Ryan Dinwiddie as a conservative coach when it comes to third-down gambles. Today, however, he surprised and impressed me by going for it on third-and-two from his own nine-yard-line.

The Argos were trailing by a touchdown with under five minutes to go in the game, and the third down gamble paid off with Toronto converting thanks to a Montreal Alouettes pass interference penalty. I think I would have punted in that same situation, so that means I lose my right to question Dinwiddie’s future punts on third-and-short.

K-Gun II
Head coach and offensive play-caller Ryan Dinwiddie may consider running more no-huddle for Chad Kelly. Kelly looked flat during stretches of this game, but my broadcast partner Mike Hogan pointed out that he seemed to come to life in tempo situations both in the first and fourth quarters.

In the no-huddle offence, Kelly completed eight of nine passes for 82 yards and looked in complete control. His uncle Jim led the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances by running a no-huddle offence known as the K-Gun.

The Full Damonte
Montreal will be quite happy not to see Damonte Coxie again for a while. After scorching the Alouettes with a diving one-handed touchdown catch in tight coverage in their first meeting of the season, the Argos’ receiver took control of this game in the fourth quarter.

He drew a crucial pass interference penalty fighting back for a desperation throw from Chad Kelly on third down with Toronto in the shadow of their own goalpost. He then caught two touchdown passes, one of which was nullified by a penalty, the other of which saw him grab the back end of the football on a 41-yard pass as he staggered to regain his balance at the goal line, tying the game with under two minutes remaining.

Failed connection
DaVaris Daniels has been one of Chad Kelly’s favourite targets this season, but the two potential 2023 all-stars weren’t on the same page against Montreal.

Kelly targeted Daniels six times but only completed one pass for 19 yards. He overthrew Daniels on two occasions when he appeared to be open, and the usually sure-handed wideout dropped a ball in the end zone for what would have been the game-tying touchdown.

Canadian Content
With receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr. on the six-game injury list, fellow Canadians Tommy Nield, Dejon Brissett, and David Ungerer III stepped up in his absence. The three Canucks combined for 168 yards on 13 receptions, with Nield leading all Toronto receivers with 11 targets. Nield has been a valuable addition for the Argonauts, dressing last week for the first time after missing most of the season with an injury.

Sack of Lemons
After not taking a sack for 48 consecutive days, Chad Kelly was finally brought down in the backfield by Montreal’s Shawn Lemon. Kelly was pressured and knocked down consistently in the second and third quarters. The Argonauts’ 11 sacks allowed is still the league’s lowest by a considerable margin, with Calgary’s 24 coming in next.

The Toronto Sack Exchange
The Toronto Sack Exchange returned this week with five sacks, including one for an eight-yard loss that led to a missed 54-yard David Cote field goal that would have put Montreal up by 10 points with just over five minutes remaining.

The Argos punished Cody Fajardo all night, knocking him off balance and redirecting his throws, including a game-deciding interception by Jamal Peters after Adarius Picket hit Fajardo as he released the football.

Block Party
Field goals don’t get blocked a lot in football, but the Argonauts have logged two highly-memorable blocked field goals in the past calendar year. The biggest was obviously Robbie Smith’s last year against Winnipeg to win the Grey Cup, but Dewayne Hendrix’s on the last play of regulation to clinch first place in the East Division was also impressive.

Hendrix squeezed through the A-gap and got a piece of David Cote’s kick. Unlike the Grey Cup field goal, this one looked on a path to actually split the uprights.

Holding hero
One of the unsung heroes of this game was David Ungerer III. For the past two games, he’s been serving as Boris Bede’s holder on field goals and extra points with John Haggerty nursing a knee injury. On the game-winning field goal, the snap was extremely high, but Ungerer extended fully to snag the ball and place it on the tee just in time for Bede to lift it between the uprights.

Milestone for Bede
Boris Bede was perfect on the day nailing all three of his field goals and both of his extra points to become the 25th player in CFL history to notch over 1,000 points in his career. Bede has more than proven his worth this season, converting 90.9 percent of his field goals while also handling punting duties over the past few weeks and making highlight-reel special teams tackles.

Fun with flags
The Toronto Argonauts have committed too many penalties all season long, and that trend continued this week in Montreal. The Argos were called for 11 penalties for 97 yards, and while Montreal was also heavily penalized with seven penalties for 74 yards, many of Toronto’s were foolish fouls committed after the play.

Dejon Allen’s unnecessary roughness penalty late in the game was just that — unnecessary — and it negated what would have been a game-tying touchdown. That was one of five unnecessary roughness penalties Toronto was assessed in the second half.

We’re going streaking!
Toronto has won eight straight road games against East opponents dating back to last August. They’ve swept all three games against Montreal this year and they have an opportunity to wrap up a four-game sweep of Hamilton next week at home. The Argos won their only game so far against Ottawa this year with two more to come.

Lonely at the top
The Argonauts are having such a successful season that they may not finish with any of the CFL records they currently hold. One would think the Argos will rest a number of players down the stretch which might jeopardize Toronto’s final win total as well as league-leading marks held by individual players. It could even impact a number of Argos currently in the running for All-Star consideration.

Next up
The Toronto Argonauts (11-1) host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (5-7) on Saturday, September 23rd at 7:00 p.m. EDT. With the division clinched, it remains to be seen if Ryan Dinwiddie will start resting players or continue to play his starters into the late stages of the season.

Ben Grant is the radio colour analyst for the Toronto Argonauts. He has been coaching high school and semi-pro football for 20 years.