Ray gets the week off

Ricky Ray won't play against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday. (REUTERS)

Ricky Ray won't play against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Thursday. (REUTERS)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:43 PM ET

Scott Milanovich made official what seemed so obvious, a no-brainer when so much could have been compromised had one breakdown in protection on any given down and distance unfolded.

Ricky Ray is by far Toronto’s most indispensable player, the team’s best player and the best option for the Argos to make any noise in the CFL’s second season.

Under no circumstance should Ray play in Thursday’s season finale, no point in exposing a quarterback who is playing at a level any team would like to hitch its wagon with the playoffs fast approaching.

The paying public may not like it, but the price would be steep if Ray somehow were asked to suit up against Hamilton and one blind-side rush knocks Ray into oblivion.

What Milanovich has done is make the only decision he could have possibly made, unless the rookie head coach’s mandate was to undo what Ray has been able to achieve in the last couple of weeks.

“Ricky will not be playing,’’ Milanovich said on Tuesday, when weather forced the Argos to move indoors, an environment that will become very familiar in the coming weeks.

Asked to explain the logic behind the decision to rest Ray, Milanovich pretty much stated the obvious.

“There’s plenty of logic behind it,’’ said Milanovich. “It’s a short week, he’s not 100% healthy and I believe it’s my job to get him into the playoff game as healthy as can possibly be. It’s in the best interest of our football team.”

No matter who is asked to start on Thursday, no matter which record gets set, regardless of the won-loss record that gets attached to the Argos, the focus is on Nov. 11, date of the East semi.

The Argos, who have been given plenty of chances to take control of a very winnable East, have at least secured a home playoff game.

Whether it’s Hamilton, Edmonton or Saskatchewan, Toronto’s three potential playoff foes, the Argos will have a chance to advance because of Ray’s presence and the rhythm he’s been able to establish since he returned from a knee injury.

When he came back, Ray showed absolutely no rust, delivering the football quickly, making the right reads and getting the ball to the right receiver.

In two games, Ray showed why GM Jim Barker paid such a stiff price to acquire a two-time Grey Cup champion.

Ray doesn’t get flustered by anything, approaches every challenge only when it’s presented to him in live time and not in some hypothetical reference.

He doesn’t need to play on Thursday and has enough experience to understand why such a decision had to be made.

“I’m treating it like I’m playing, but I won’t be playing,’’ said Ray. “I’m staying sharp out here (in practice) by throwing all the routes and staying in the playbook.

“There are so many different ways coaches like to handle situations like this. I’ve been involved in the last game where I’ve played a little bit. Some coaches choose to rest guys. I try not to think about what ifs and what else I could be doing.”

The time he spent away from game action has actually benefitted Ray, who admits he locks into one area of play, which is understandable given his position.

By watching from the sidelines, Ray noticed how defences ran their schemes, how his own receivers ran routes and generally saw the game from a perspective, which he credits for his stellar play of late.

RICKY’S REGULAR SEASON A COMPLETE SUCCESS

Ricky Ray has picked the absolute best time of the season to play his best football in an Argos uniform.

Now that the Argos have officially announced Ray will not play in Thursday’s finale against Hamilton, the two-time Grey Cup champion will now boasts the single-best completion percentage in team history.

For the record, Ray has completed 68.6% of his passes, including an eye-popping 24-of-30 game in Regina on Saturday in leading the Argos to a 31-26 win that secured a home playoff game for the first time since 2007.

Kerwin Bell held the previous Argos mark of 67.3%, a number he posted in 1998.

In his past two games, Ray has thrown for 688 yards, eight touchdowns and been picked off once.

On Wednesday, the CFL announced that Ray had won the weekly honour as top offensive player, while slotback Andre Durie was named top Canadian following a two-touchdown performance against the Riders.

“We’re playing a lot better,’’ Ray said of Toronto’s offence. “We’re not making as many mistakes.”

For most of the season, Ray’s go-to guy was Chad Owens, who has a chance to become the first player in CFL history to lead the league in receiving yards and all-purpose yards.

But since his return, Ray has looked comfortable in getting Durie involved, Jason Barnes and Mo Mann.

With Dontrelle Inman expected back on Thursday, Ray will have any option come playoff time.

“We’re making a lot of plays the last couple of weeks and we’re not making many negative plays,’’ added Ray.

Part of the reason why the Argos have moved the ball is the team’s first-down production, primarily based on underneath routes receivers have been able to turn into seven or eight-yard gains that lead to a run or pass option on manageable second downs.

START AND FINISHED

Jarious Jackson gets to start for the Argos in what will likely be his final appearance in Double Blue.

Under Jackson, the Argos went 1-2, including a very gutty road win in Winnipeg as Jackson started a CFL game for the first time in two years.

In Thursday’s season finale against visiting Hamilton, Jackson will start, likely playing one half before giving way to rookies Trevor Harris and Zach Collaros.

“This won’t be a wasted 60 minutes,’’ said Jackson. “The goal is to go out there and win and end the year as a .500 club, if that’s the best we can do. We’ll then take it from there.

“After this game, the regular season is over and then it doesn’t matter what the record is because the re-set button gets pushed and everybody is 0-0. It’s all about who can win the next three.”

While there’s nothing on the line for the Argos, there’s plenty at stake for the Ticats, who need help in order to make the playoffs, a scenario that will see Hamilton return to Rogers Centre on Nov. 11.

“We understand their predicament,’’ added Jackson. “We lost three in a row and couldn’t solidify a playoff spot. That causes a little anxiety.”


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