The last hurrah

Looking ahead and behind, the Oakland Raiders can think about what could have been. Certain twists and turns have led them to where they are today.

Marques Tuiasosopo returns to the site of his last chance Sunday, fully ready to move on.

Once the heir apparent to Rich Gannon as quarterback of the Raiders, Tuiasosopo had two small windows of opportunity in five seasons, both of which closed abruptly.

On Nov. 2, 2003, Tuiasosopo got his first start, with Gannon going down the previous week with a torn labrum on his throwing shoulder. After Gannon was hurt on Oct. 20 against Kansas City, Tuiasosopo rallied Oakland from a 17-3 deficit to 17-10, and Tim Brown came out of the end zone to catch a pass at the 1-yard line as time expired.

Against Detroit in the next game, Tuiasosopo sustained a season-ending knee injury just before halftime.

He didn't get his second chance until Dec. 11, 2005, when Norv Turner decided to start Tuiasosopo ahead of Kerry Collins against the Jets. The Raiders lost 26-10. Tuiasosopo threw two interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles, and Turner gave the job back to Collins the following week.

"I get one game, some quarterbacks get a year, three years, it's amazing," Tuiasosopo said. "It's amazing. Look at (Buffalo's) J.P. Losman. They were about to dig his grave for him. Now he's the guy. It's his third year and he's making the plays.

"Look at Drew Brees. He's in the Pro Bowl playing at a high level. I know when he started it wasn't that great. He worked hard and continued to compete. I guess that's all I'm looking for."

Tuiasosopo left out that as a senior at the University of Washington, he was the Most Valuable Player in the Rose Bowl as his Huskies beat Brees and Purdue. Raiders coach Jon Gruden, enamored with Tuiasosopo's fourth-quarter heroics, pushed hard for the Tuiasosopo in the draft, and Al Davis obliged.

Gannon's durability made it impossible for Tuiasosopo to get on the field. Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay, and when Bill Callahan was fired in favor of Turner, the ball-control, short-passing system designed for a mobile quarterback gave way to a more vertical, down-the-field attack.

It was Collins instead who replaced Gannon, and then the Raiders drafted Andrew Walter. Tuiasosopo spent this season as the No. 3 quarterback, although he did play the fourth quarter of a 22-9 win over Arizona after Walter was hurt, engineering a drive that took more than five minutes off the clock late in the game.

Tuiasosopo's original five-year contract is up after the season. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and he sounds convinced there is someone who will give him a chance.

Gruden, in Tampa Bay, is always looking for quarterbacks. Scott Linehan of the Rams was Tuiasosopo's offensive coordinator at Washington. Rich Neuheisel, his head coach at Washington, is quarterbacks coach of the Ravens.

"I feel like if I'm given the proper chance, I can be an effective quarterback and win games," Tuiasosopo said.


Despite the fact that the Jets' win-and-they're-in regular-season finale is against the playing-out-the-string Raiders, the Jets are trying hard not to assume a victory.

Mainly because first-year coach Eric Mangini won't let them.

"Our coaching staff does a good job of keeping us focused," quarterback Chad Pennington said, "and we'll take the same approach we have every week throughout the season. If there's anything we've learned through our experiences this season, it's that records mean absolutely nothing and that your preparation and your work that you put in throughout the week is what sets the tone for Sunday. And we've had experiences this year where everyone thought we were going to win and we didn't."

The two most obvious examples of that were losses at Cleveland (4-11) and at home against Buffalo (7-8). Against the Browns on Oct. 29, the Jets were held without an offensive touchdown in a 20-13 loss. The Jets allowed three touchdowns of more than 50 yards in a 31-13 loss to the Bills on Dec. 10, in one of the team's worst games this season.

"We have to make sure that we do everything in our power to get ready because we're playing a team that is not (as bad as) 2-13, and their defense plays absolutely magnificent," Pennington said.

True, the numbers are very good. Oakland ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 286.1 yards per game, and is first in passing defense, permitting only 150.9 yards. The Raiders have allowed only 16 touchdown passes while garnering 18 interceptions and 33 sacks. Critics, however, say Oakland's defense looks better than it is because opponents play conservatively, knowing it won't take many points to outscore the Raiders' puny offense.

"This is not a game that you can just roll your helmet out there and chalk up a win," said Pennington, who has 16 touchdown passes and 16 picks but has done an excellent job of managing games. "Offensively we have to come to play, and if we don't, they'll embarrass us. And so we've got to make sure that we have a good week of practice and understand what they're capable of doing because they have playmakers across the board."

Pennington has thrown four touchdowns passes and 11 interceptions in the Jets' six losses.

"We understand that if we don't take care of the football, we don't give ourselves a good chance to win," he said. "That's the number one goal going into every game, especially when you play against a good defense. We have to protect the football. We can't give them easy opportunities. When you're in play against a good defense, whether it's Chicago, Miami, Buffalo or Oakland, they're very opportunistic, and they have an offensive mind-set and they think offensively. If you give them easy opportunities, they just don't turn those opportunities into turnovers, they turn them into points for their team."

"As a defense, every time we step on the field, we want to wreck havoc," said Oakland defensive end Derrick Burgess, who has a team-high 11 sacks. "I wouldn't say (only) me and Warren (Sapp). I'd say the defense as a whole. We still want to put our mark on the league and let everyone know that we're serious.

"Our coaches don't really talk about being spoilers. As a team, for sure as a defense, it's all about pride. We play for pride, pride all day. It really doesn't matter what they have going on or what the score is, we are going to be out there to fight, that's the bottom line."

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