The Hamilton Tiger-Cats fell to the Toronto Argonauts 29-14 at BMO Field in Toronto on Saturday night. Below are my thoughts on the game.
Against a team like Toronto, opposing teams have to be nearly flawless to pull an upset. The Ticats were not that on Saturday, as the team filled their litter box with mistakes.
There were the two brutal interceptions from Taylor Powell, both to Wynton McManis, that led directly to a pair of Argos’ majors. Powell also conceded a safety on an intentional grounding call later in the game.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 23, 2023
There were backbreaking penalties that handed the Argos good field position or hurt their own. Left tackle Jordan Murray took three illegal procedure penalties; Ja’Gared Davis and Ted Laurent took back-to-back offside flags that handed the Argos a first down; and Tyler Ternowski took a horrendous holding penalty that negated a 57-yard Tyreik McAllister punt return.
The Argos did what they had to do to win by two scores but the Tabbies did their best to hand them the game. Against better teams, you simply cannot make that many errors and expect to win. The Ticats did, so they went home with their fifth straight loss to their bitterest rival and have been swept in the season series for the first time since 2007.
Coming off the best two-game stretch of his short professional career, quarterback Taylor Powell reminded everyone on Saturday that he is still a rookie. Powell had one of his worst games of the season against the Argos, completing 64 percent of his passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
The raw numbers do not look bad and it was Powell’s highest output in terms of yards this season, but this is where numbers can deceive.
His decision-making against what is an admittedly great Argos’ defence was suspect. His two interceptions were horrendous, especially the second one which came on a botched flea flicker.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 24, 2023
As you can see, there is not a single Tiger-Cat in the frame when McManis catches that ball.
There was also a lot of stat padding for Powell as 188 of his 334 passing yards came in the final quarter when the Argos were up by two or more scores. The final frame was also where he would toss his lone touchdown pass to a Tiger-Cats player, finding Terry Godwin for a five-yard strike.
Rookies are going to struggle from time to time and given that Powell had been very good over the last month, it was inevitable he would hit a wall. He hit it hard on Saturday night.
Keepin’ ‘em in it
On Saturday, Hamilton’s defence had probably its best performance against the Argos since the second half of the 2021 East Final.
They held Toronto to just 15 first downs, 305 yards of net offence, a minuscule 3.5 yards per carry on 19 rushes, and intercepted two passes. They also were only truly responsible for 13 of the 29 points surrendered as the other 16 points could be directly attributed to the the offence.
Jameer Thurman continued his strong season, making a team-high six tackles and being the recipient of one of Chad Kelly’s interceptions. That pick kept points off the board as the Argos were driving late in the first half and had Marc Liegghio not come up short on a 47-yard field goal, it would have led to points for his team.
One negative about the game from a defensive perspective is that Ted Laurent left in the second quarter and did not return. He was on the sideline in the second half without his uniform on. We will have to see what the next week holds during practice to know if Laurent will miss any time.
Given that Toronto had run roughshod over the Tiger-Cats this season, scoring 30 or more in the previous three matchups, the defence has to be happy with the way they played and know that if the offence held up their end of things, perhaps this game would have ended a bit differently than it ultimately did.
Kiondre’s coming-out party
There was not a lot to speak about positively from an offensive perspective but Kiondre Smith had the best game of his two-year career, catching a career-high nine passes for 156 yards.
I expected a lot of Smith this season and he looked poised for a breakout after a tremendous training camp but he has found himself an afterthought most weeks. He has surpassed his catch and yards totals from last season by a wide margin — he has 40 catches and 485 yards already this year after having just 17 for 247 as a rookie — but he has not blossomed into the future all-star I thought he could.
Regardless, a game like Saturday’s is the type one can build off so hopefully this is the beginning of the ascent for the young Canadian.
Picking on the new kid
For the second week in a row, rookie halfback Dexter Lawson was challenged early and failed the test.
I had a feeling entering this game that Kelly and Co. would attack Lawson early just as the Bombers and Zach Collaros did a week ago. Collaros connected on a number of deep passes and it stood to reason that the Argos would test out the rookie as well.
On their eighth play from scrimmage, the Argos did just that with Kelly heaving a 70-yard bomb to Dejon Brissett, who had beaten Lawson and was running wide open down the middle of the field. Good offences will find the weak link in the defence and attack it. That’s what Winnipeg did last week and it is what the Argos did this week.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 23, 2023
Much like a week ago, Lawson got his feet under him and played better as the game went on but expect teams to continue to target the 23-year-old until he starts making them pay for it.
While not a banner night for the franchise, it was for one of their most legendary players. Future Hall of Fame linebacker Simoni Lawrence etched his name in CFL history on Saturday with his 723rd career tackle, which moved him into 10th all-time in that category. Lawrence passed former Argo and Ticat Kevin Eiben to reach the top 10.
It is unlikely that Simoni will rise any higher than 10th this season, as he sits 43 tackles behind Hall of Famer Greg Battle and would need to average over eight tackles a game over the final five games to surpass Battle’s total of 766.
Should Lawrence return for a 12th season next year, he likely would overtake Battle for ninth and have an outside shot of displacing Eddie Davis for eighth all-time. Even if he finishes his career in 10th, that spot seems fairly secure for the near future. Only two other active players reside in the top 25, Adam Bighill and Henoc Muamba. Bighill sits sixth with 880 tackles, a number Lawrence won’t surpass but Muamba is over 100 tackles behind the Tiger-Cat legend with 610 and has not played a game this season. Simoni’s position as a top-10 all-time tackler will remain for quite some time.
Saturday was the Argos’ first home game since earning the right to host the East Final on November 11 but you would have been hard-pressed to know that if you were at BMO Field on Saturday night.
There was barely any mention of it from the P.A. announcer and no on-sale date was announced for tickets. just a vague “be on the lookout” type shoutout.
This feels like a massive missed opportunity by the club. Fan interest in the Argos is at a fever pitch thanks to their franchise-best 12-1 start to the year. The franchise should be looking to capitalize on the organic momentum they have built.
Argos home playoff games in the past have relied on the opposing fan base to help pump up their attendance numbers — the 2021, 2017 and 2013 East Finals are prime examples of that — but that should not be the case this year. With this much lead time to sell tickets, it would be a real pockmark on the franchise if the crowd on November 11 has a massive amount of the away team’s fans.
Fortunes in another’s hands
With their loss and the Montreal Alouettes defeating the Calgary Stampeders earlier in the day, the Ticats no longer control their fortunes when it comes to securing second place in the East Division.
Simply matching the Als over the final four weeks will not be good enough as Montreal owns the tiebreaker thanks to their two earlier wins. Montreal has shown they will beat the teams they are supposed to beat and lose to the ones who are significantly better than they are.
Unfortunately for fans of the Black and Gold, the Als’ final four games come against Ottawa (twice), Edmonton and the Tiger-Cats. Montreal is currently 4-0 against those teams this year, so if Hamilton has any shot of hosting the East Semi-Final, they are going to need one of them to take the Als down.
After getting a split against the two Grey Cup favourites, the Ticats now turn their attention to securing a playoff berth for the fifth season in a row.
For the Tabbies to punch their post-season ticket all that has to happen is they beat the Calgary Stampeders next week and the Montreal Alouettes do the same to the Ottawa Redblacks.
A Ticats win would give them seven on the season, eliminating both the Stamps and Edmonton Elks from crossing over. A Redblacks loss would also cap them at seven wins, meaning at best they could match Hamilton’s record which would not be enough to unseat Hamilton for third given the Tiger-Cats won the tiebreaker thanks to their three wins earlier this season.
It is not too far-fetched to believe that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be playoff-bound at this time next week.