Playing with heavy hearts

If there ever was an NFL exhibition game where battling for final roster spots seemed so trivial, look no further than Thursday night's Oakland Raiders 13-6 win over the New Orleans Saints at McAfee Coliseum. While the after effects of Hurricane Katrina weigh heavily on the minds of the entire country, one could not have blamed the New Orleans Saints if football was not on their mind.

"I think all of us understand what's going on," Oakland Raiders head coach Norv Turner said. "Obviously the coverage has been so graphic but in visiting with their coaches and some of the players before the game it really hits you. My heart goes out to all of the people involved."

The Raiders and their fans showed compassion by having a moment of silence before the game. In addition, roughly 100 people were present for a blood drive the team and American Red Cross sponsored before the game. The Raiders also donated to the Red Cross and ran public service announcements on the stadium's big screen to advocate that other people lend a helping hand to the hurricane victims.

One fan held a sign that read, "United We Stand, New Orleans." In fact, some people mused that the game should not have been played at all.

"Everybody's got to make their own decision," Turner said. "There's so many ramifications involved. It's one of those deals where whatever decision you make someone is going to question it."

The Saints vacated their ravaged city on Sunday and practiced at San Jose State University throughout the week. The Saints were headed to San Antonio after the game, where their temporary home will be until further notice.

As for the action on the field, the Saints managed to put up a very commendable effort where their minds were understandably not on football.

Like their previous three exhibition games, the Raiders first-unit played brilliantly. Oakland marched 80 yards on 11 plays on the game's opening possession with Kerry Collins capping off the drive with a beautifully thrown 27-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss.

"Kerry has done what we've asked him to do since the season ended," Turner said. "He's in the best condition he's ever been in. his weight is down. He's worked on his mobility in the pocket. He's seeing the field as well as he has since I've been around him. He and randy are developing a chemistry. That doesn't happen in three months. It will continue to grow as we go through the season."

Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski kicked field goals of 23 and 42 yards while John Carney made good from 37 and 38 yards.

Three Raiders helping their cause:

Johnnie Morant

On the bubble to even make the roster before training camp started because of a crowded pool of receivers, Morant capped off his impressive exhibition season with six catches for 161 yards.

"Johnnie is a big physical guy," Turner said. "When he uses his physical skills he can be very tough for any corner to handle. What we're working on is consistently using those skills and understanding what his strengths are and using them."

Andrew Walter

He missed two games with a groin strain but the rookie out of Arizona State gave more ammunition to the notion that he's a better fit for the offense than Marques Tuiasosopo. Walter completed 13-of-20 passes for 221 yards Thursday.

"I thought Andrew did a number of good things," Turner said. "When a guy hasn't practiced it's awfully hard to be firm in the pocket. He was a little antsy early but as it went on he got better. He's got great presence, he's got a strong arm, and he throws hard. He's shown me that he's going to be a very good player. That's come out in everything he's done since we got him."

Chris Carr

The undrafted rookie free agent out of Boise state continued to impress as a returner. In fact, Carr had a 101-yard kickoff return for a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty.

"When we start, I think some of the veteran guys kind of chuckle when you say on the first night of minicamp that someone in this group is going to surprise the whole league," Turner said. "There's someone in here who's going to show that they belong at some level. We were looking for a returner. We went after the best returner we could find."

Added Carr: "I remember something like that but you can't get caught up in that. If you can play, you can play no matter where you're from. It's a matter of getting the opportunity."

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at

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