VANCOUVER — B.C. Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings delivered one of his best performances of the season in a crucial win Saturday night, but says his play wasn't motivated by recent questions about his commitment to the game.
Jennings threw for 199 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 47 yards in three carries in the Lions' 26-23 victory over the Toronto Argonauts (3-11) at B.C. Place. The win keeps the Lions (7-7) in the thick of the CFL West playoff hunt, while the Argos are on the brink of elimination with the defeat.
Jennings has thrown for more than 200 yards just once in his eight games with the Lions this year.
Saturday's strong showing came after B.C general manager Ed Hervey appeared to question in an interview with Postmedia whether the 26-year-old is committed to becoming an elite quarterback.
Jennings was the Lions' starter at the beginning of the season, but then lost the job to veteran Travis Lulay. He took over again last month after Lulay was sidelined by a dislocated shoulder.
Hervey said he sees "flashes" of good things from Jennings, but added that the Columbus, Ohio native is "rarely" seen around the team's training facility enough to show that he has what it takes to take his game to the next level, a comment that the quarterback's agent refuted in a statement.
Asked whether Hervey's words spurred Saturday's performance, Jennings said no.
"I'm just thankful for my teammates. I got a lot of support from my teammates. And I'm just happy we got the win," he said.
Lions coach Wally Buono said he trusts what Hervey says and does.
"After last week ... we should all be criticized," the coach said, referring to B.C.'s dismal 40-10 loss in Hamilton.
"If somebody takes offence to it, then that's life. But Ed's got the right to state an opinion. If that encourages other players, coaches to do a better job, then that's what he gets paid to do."
No matter the motivation, Buono said he was happy with how Jennings played on Saturday.
"It was nice to see him make some good throws, make some good reads. I'd like to see him do more of that," Buono said.
Toronto's McLeod Bethel-Thompson had a woeful outing, throwing four interceptions and a touchdown and finishing with just 97 passing yards. In the fourth quarter, he was replaced by James Franklin, who did much better, finishing with 103 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Jennings connected with Cory Watson midway through the first quarter for a 14-yard touchdown.
It was B.C.'s lone touchdown of the night, with the rest of the scoring coming from kicker Ty Long, who had six field goals and a single.
The 25-year-old also registered a tackle in the fourth-quarter as Toronto tried to rally.
The Argos had a pair of late-game touchdowns from Duron Carter and Myles White.
The game's final minutes were stressful, Long said.
"(I was thinking) let's just get this game over with," he said. "Every team in this league is good and this league is crazy. I didn't want them to have any type of way of having a chance to win."
Toronto coach Marc Trestman said the Lions did a good job of backing up the Argos and gave his team credit for not giving up.
"My guys played to the end. A great effort," he said. "They played winning football really in the last quarter and a half, but certainly not well enough to win."
The loss effectively ends the Argos' race for the post-season. It could also put Bethel-Thompson's job in jeopardy.
Trestman said Franklin may be in line for more playing time.
"We'll take a couple of days, talk it over," he said.
"I thought he played fast, played very well and play under some duress."
It was a much-needed victory for the Lions, who are battling the Edmonton Eskimos (7-7) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (8-7) for playoff spots.
Now the squad needs to stay healthy and players need to focus on executing their roles, said B.C. defensive lineman Davon Coleman, who had two interceptions on Saturday.
"We've got a great team and a great group of guys," he said. "If everybody holds their weight, we'll be a great football team."
The Argos are now headed home for a game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Friday.
The Lions will be back in action next Saturday, when they visit the Calgary Stampeders.
Saturday's result also clinched a post-season spot and a home playoff game for the Ottawa Redblacks.
NOTES: Toronto receiver S.J. Green took a massive hit from B.C.'s Jordan Herdman in the first quarter. The Argos slotback was down on the field for several minutes before eventually walking off on his own. He later went to the Toronto locker-room and coach Marc Trestman said he "seemed fine" after the game. ... B.C. running back Jeremiah Johnson had 19 carries for 118 yards — the first time this season he's rushed for more than 100 yards. ... The Lions' win marked Wally Buono's 280th coaching victory. He is the league's all-time leader in coaching wins.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press