Not that the game didn't have its curious sub-plots. Amid the ho-hum of Oakland's 31-3 victory came some intriguing sidebars, chief among them the elevation of second-year safety Derrick Gibson into the starting lineup and the continued evolution of rookie Phillip Buchanon.
In a move that hardly came as a shock, Gibson moved into the starting strong safety position manned the last two years by Marquez Pope and Johnnie Harris. Pope was released in the offseason but Harris had been working with the starters since the beginning of training camp. Gibson, whose progress in the preseason has been lauded by Oakland's coaching staff, started the game alongside Rod Woodson to form a safety tandem that is likely to be on the field when the Raiders open the regular season a week from Sunday.
Gibson actually played both safety spots against the Cardinals, sliding to free safety for some extended work when Woodson was given the rest of the night off late in the first quarter. Oakland's first-round pick a year ago, Gibson had three tackles, a sack and a pass knocked down in the first half.
''I thought he played a very solid game tonight,'' said Oakland head coach Bill Callahan. ''He continues to improve. We do have good competition with he and Johnnie Harris. We haven't named a starter yet at this point. We are going to look closely at the game film.''
Buchanon, the team's top draft pick this year, made a pair of big plays for the Raiders. He first dazzled the crowd with a nifty 55-yard punt return late in the first quarter then recovered an Arizona fumble late in Cardinals territory to set up Oakland's first touchdown, a 12-yard pass from Marques Tuiasosopo to Reggie Barlow.
Tuiasosopo, who took over after Rich Gannon's one-series appearance to start the game, was 11 of 16 for 156 yards with two interceptions. Rick Mirer, who has played minimally in the preseason, quarterbacked Oakland the entire second half and had a five-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Doug Jolley to make it 17-3. Madre Hill had a 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter then Zack Crockett dove in from a yard out to push the lead to 31-3.
''I thought we had an excellent team effort in all three phases,'' said Callahan, whose team ended the preseason 2-2. ''We had plenty of opportunities and I feel like we're in a rhythm. We just need to put some points on the board.''
Much-maligned kicker Sebastian Janikowski quieted his critics at least temporarily. Janikowski, who had missed five of eight field goal attempts in the preseason prior to Thursday, opened the game by booming a kickoff 82 yards, landing the kick two yards behind the back of the end zone. He also good on his lone field goal attempt from 36 yards ... Defensive tackle Sam Adams made his Oakland debut and played well in his brief time. On his very first play he tossed Arizona guard Chris Dishman away like dirty clothes. Later, he knifed into the Cardinals backfield to help stop Thomas Jones for no gain. When asked if he could have played five days earlier against San Francisco, Adams shook his head. ''No, I just got here,'' the mammoth-sized lineman said. ''But you can best believe I'll be ready for Seattle. If ain't nothing else happens I'll be ready for them.'' Adams, if you couldn't tell by his remarks, used to play for the Seahawks ... Last week the Raiders experimented with a 3-4 defense. This week they trotted out a 5-2 defense that included Rod Coleman, Trace Armstrong, Tony Bryant, Adams and John Parrella on the defensive line ... Seventh-round draft pick Ronald Curry didn't help his status much. Curry, who fumbled twice in Oakland's preseason loss to Tennessee, fumbled a punt return in the third quarter and the Cardinals recovered, though they couldn't do anything with it.