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If Only He Hadn't . . . : Season Closes on Sour Note, Causing Flores to Wonder 'What If?'

January 07, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

They struck the Jolly Roger over the Raiders' base in El Segundo Monday, signifying the end of another football season, however premature.

There was nothing left to do except watch the Patriot game film, which, with its six turnovers, makes "Night of the Living Dead" look like a musical comedy.

Suffice to say that despite everything else--Patriot guttiness, Marc Wilson's three-interception, 11-for-27 day--if Fulton Walker had fallen on the punt he fumbled instead of trying to pick it up, and if Sam Seale had made sure not to fumble the same kickoff twice, the Raiders would have given the Patriots 14 fewer points and might well have escaped.

Well, there was one thing left to attend to--the final defense of Marc Wilson.

"I know Marc did not have a real good day," Raider Coach Tom Flores said. "But I never get into a public critique of any player. I don't think it's proper. . . . And it's not always the quarterback.

"He has been dealing with it (the criticism) all year. He's been closely watched all year. He had some good games and some average games, but we won. He was 11-2 and played hurt most of the year. That's normal in the life of a quarterback. I think he's handled it well. It's just something he's going to have to live with."

That having been said, there are more questions to be answered, but they won't be addressed for a while.

For instance, who will be the quarterback next season?

One possible reason for staying with Wilson was that the Raiders really had no choice. Jim Plunkett was out, and the only other possibility was rookie Rusty Hilger. The Raiders like Hilger but haven't started any rookies at quarterback in the last two decades.

By the time Plunkett was healthy enough to return to practice, with about a month left in the regular season, the Raiders were rolling, sort of.

In 1984, Plunkett returned from an injury and got his job back for the playoffs, after which the Seahawks held the Raiders to one touchdown and kicked them out of the playoffs.

Add to that the Raiders' limited hopes for the 38-year-old Plunkett--before the season, a Raider official said they were hoping to get one more year out of him--and you have a case for going with Wilson.

There is speculation that the job will be actually thrown open next summer.

Plunkett is coming back.

"I would think he would be invited back," Flores said. "We don't have any reason not to."

And Hilger may be ready to challenge.

"We think--I hate to use the word--he has potential," Flores said. "He has a live arm. He has a good attitude toward the game. He just needs as much work as he possibly can get."

In every other area, the Raiders had a fine season.

The offensive line, overrun last season and early in this one, got itself back together. The switch of Don Mosebar to center in Dave Dalby's place worked as planned. The Raiders think Mosebar is a future star at the position.

The new wide receivers came on. Dokie Williams was strong all the way. The rookie No. 1 pick, Jessie Hester, dropped a lot of balls early but calmed down, caught three touchdown passes in the second half of the season and one in the playoffs. Tight end Todd Christensen became the first receiver to catch 80 passes in three straight seasons.

The defensive line and linebackers had a great year. They were lethal against the run, right up until Sunday. Before Craig James got 104 yards against them, they had allowed no runner more than 98 yards and only two more than 85 yards.

They had an AFC-high 65 sacks. Bill Pickel took over at nose guard for Reggie Kinlaw and led the team with 12 1/2 sacks. Second-year defensive end Sean Jones had 7 1/2 in his four starts after Lyle Alzado was hurt.

Inside linebacker Matt Millen, on the verge of being traded after an injury-slowed 1984 season, returned with a vengeance. The Raiders found him a run-stuffing partner to replace Bob Nelson in Reggie McKenzie, a 10th-round draft pick who started all season.

McKenzie was so good that the Raiders could not get the newly acquired Jerry Robinson into the lineup, and began switching him back to outside linebacker. Robinson has real show-stopper ability, and the Raiders are not thought to have gotten him to be a situation substitute.

The secondary had a slow start, but was allowed to loosen up on its macho style and play some zone. It finished strong.

And Marcus Allen had the year of his pro career.

The special teams had a good year, with the little exception of two games, the 33-3 wipeout at Seattle and Sunday's loss. At 36, Ray Guy led AFC punters in net average. Placekicker Chris Bahr had a tough season though, missing 10 of his 13 tries outside the 40 and one more Sunday.

"I'm proud of this team," Flores said. "It was very tough at the beginning of the year, but it's an indication of the kind of team it is, the way it bounced back. Twelve and four is a good year.

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