Return to Atlanta excites Raiders' Buchanan

FLOWERY BRANCH - When the NFL released its 2004 schedule, Ray Buchanan couldn't wait for Oakland's Week 14 visit to the Georgia Dome.

Buchanan's seven-year stay with the Atlanta Falcons ended March 1 when new coach Jim Mora called to relay the team's decision to release him. The Falcons avoided a $2 million roster bonus that Ray Buchanan, a former cornerback whose 39 interceptions tied him Bobby Butler for third place on Atlanta's career interception list, was due later that week.

"Really, I have no hard feelings because I believe everything happens for a reason," Buchanan said by telephone Wednesday. "I wouldn't have been able to play the free safety position unless a guy like (Raiders owner) Al Davis gives me the opportunity."

Though he will spend part of the game defending Atlanta receiver Peerless Price, Buchanan, who still owns his home north of Atlanta at Duluth's Sugarloaf Country Club, will thank his former teammate for helping him buy extra tickets for the 1 p.m. game Sunday.

"I would do the same for him," Buchanan said with a chuckle, "but when he'd see that them tickets would be in the nose bleed, then he'd see how tight we are."

Buchanan, now 12 games into his switch to free safety, talks to Price talk two or three times a week. Cornerback Kevin Mathis and strong safety Bryan Scott remain a part of Buchanan's circle of friends.

"I couldn't make the money I wanted to make in the past," said Buchanan, whose salary dropped from $4.15 million last year to $760,000 this year. "I really wish they would've given me the opportunity up front to play the free safety position. It wasn't done the right way last year with seven or eight games left to go in the season last year. The way I felt about it and the way the team felt about it - it was just such a big mess."

Buchanan hasn't had as much fun as he anticipated when he signed with the Raiders April 6. By then, Oakland already had Ted Washington and Warren Sapp under contract, and the Raiders believed their new free-agent additions would re-establish a pass rush that struggled in a 4-12 season the year before.

Switching from cornerback to free safety has gone well for Buchanan. After Juran Bolden replaced him at left corner midway through the Falcons' disastrous 5-11 season last year, Buchanan was ready for a fresh start. He looked forward to playing with a defense that included a strong cornerback tandem in Charles Woodson and Phillip Buchanon and a pass rush that featured Sapp, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, and Washington, the 365-pound centerpiece of New England's Super Bowl title last season.

As the Raiders (4-8) prepare to face the Falcons (9-3) this week, Buchanan regrets that his new team is all but eliminated from the AFC playoff race. Oakland's offense has struggled with a rushing attack that ranks last, but the defense is the league's worst in sacks (16), opponents' passer rating (102.8) and touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (4-to-1).

Buchanan hasn't heard much lately from Sapp, who used to talk nonstop in Atlanta's games against Tampa Bay. Now that they're teammates, Buchanan doesn't hear much from a self-anointed "QB Killah," who has just one-half sack this year.

"Woo, if I was him I'd be in the dumps," Buchanan said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I mean 0.5 sacks? That'll quiet you up a little bit, believe me. That'll quiet you up. He's still a good player."

Buchanan, 33, knows the poor production depresses the 31-year-old Sapp, who recorded 77 sacks from 1995-2003 and played in seven straight Pro Bowls.

"You look at him, and his work ethic when he get out on the football field -one thing he has been doing is making a big sacrifice (in) playing at the end position a lot of times," Buchanan said. "When you first get here, you say, 'OK, I can get the job done,' but when it doesn't happen, it gets frustrating. You start thinking, 'Maybe I'm not fit for this defense.' "

The blame is widespread for a defense that, under new coordinator Rob Ryan, had failed to sack Kansas City's Trent Green, Denver's Jake Plummer and San Diego's Drew Brees as they combined to throw 92 passes the last three weeks.

Oakland, which has lost seven of its last nine games, ranks 28th in total defense, 24th against the run, 26th against the pass and 28th in scoring average.

"It's tough because nobody likes to lose, but it's a little bit different because we're a real good 4-8 football team," Buchanan said. "We've got a lot of young guys on this time and then we brought in a lot of new guys, including myself, so we knew, realistically, it was going to take a little time to gel."

Notes: Falcons nose tackle Ed Jasper (hand), cornerback Jason Webster (groin) and receiver Brian Finneran (ankle) missed practice Wednesday. Head coach Jim Mora listed the first two as questionable and Finneran as probable.

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