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Thumbs Down for Wilson; Plunkett Is Likely to Start

November 11, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

And the new Raider No. 1 quarterback officially is . . .

Almost . . .

Marc Wilson?

Just kidding. It's Jim Plunkett, who won Sunday's game in Dallas and will probably start this Sunday's game against the Browns.

"At this point, I haven't made a total decision, but it looks like Jim will probably be our starter," Coach Tom Flores said Monday in a session he would have preferred to avoid. "Marc injured his thumb again. That wasn't the reason that I made the change. I just felt a change at that time was necessary.

"Obviously, that's everybody's concern. It seems to be the only concern."

Everybody, however, may include Flores' players. Their outlook seemed to turn 180 degrees when Plunkett threw his first touchdown pass to Dokie Williams. The defense that had allowed 258 yards in the first half, and 78 rushing to Tony Dorsett, allowed 55 to the Cowboys in the second half and 23 to Dorsett.

What's going on?

Why did Flores wait so long? Wilson had thrown seven interceptions and had produced one touchdown in three halves, during which the Raiders had been outscored, 31-13.

Why is he talking about Wilson's thumb if it was no factor?

It's not such a mystery, actually:

--The Raiders never really demote anyone. Believing in a kind of loyalty that won't allow for any public discussion of a player's real ability, they explain everything in terms of injuries. When the aging Dave Dalby left the lineup last season, never to return, it was because of "turf toe."

But when it's your time to go, you go. Dalby was cut the next summer.

--The coaching staff was afraid to go with Plunkett for a full season. At 38, drawing the kind of fire a Raider quarterback attracts when he's peering far downfield, waiting for one of his sprinters to finish stretching the zone, could he survive?

"To take the whole load of a 16-game season, that would be tough," Flores said. "Right now, Jim is relatively fresh. Thank God he is, because of some of the problems Marc was having."

--They had to find out if Wilson could run this offense. In terms of talent and experience, he was still as likely a candidate as they had, not to mention their multimillion-dollar investment in him.

Unfortunately for them, and for Wilson, the results weren't highly promising.

Is this demotion the beginning of the end of Wilson as a Raider? Only time will tell, but since he took over the No. 1 spot when Plunkett went down early last season, Flores never once relieved him or replaced him. Until now.

--Making Plunkett the starter is only a short-term solution and this isn't just a short-term problem. Before the start of the 1985 season, the Raiders were hoping to bleed one more year out of him. They're heading into the home stretch of the '86 season and they still can't find another answer.

Who's the quarterback of the future?

Is he on the roster?

If not, where is he coming from? There are very few trades anywhere in the NFL for good quarterbacks. A lot of Raiders say no one in the NFL will trade with Al Davis right now.

This may have less to do with owners' anger at Davis for testifying for the USFL than with last season's Malcolm Barnwell deal. Barnwell went to the Redskins for a No. 2 draft choice and was waived soon thereafter. Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard joked that he was now a member of the You Can't Beat Al Davis Club. Not a lot of general managers have tried since.

What does Plunkett bring to the position that Wilson doesn't?

Plunkett's first score Sunday was on an audible, but Raider players think that both quarterbacks are about equal there. Raider audibles are said to be fairly mechanical--see a certain defense, go to a certain call.

The second touchdown pass to Williams may be more illustrative. Flores said that Williams was the third option on that play, with Todd Christensen running a deep corner and Jessie Hester running underneath.

Flores said that Wilson would have gone to Williams, too. Another Raider said that Plunkett picks up secondary receivers better.

Plunkett, who has never had his plays called before, is more apt to reject the play being sent in, or to call his own when it comes in late. He doesn't burn timeouts as Wilson habitually does. Could this be an index of each quarterback's confidence in himself?

In this game, everyone gets to form his own conclusion.

So we'll give the last word to, who else, Lester Hayes, whose complete comments after Sunday's game were too voluminous to be carried in only one day's newspaper.

"His forte in life is to be a leader," Hayes said. "It's a Jim General Patton Plunkett-ism. He got us 17 points and it was academic! So be it! Thank God! We're back! I love him, I love him, I love him!"

Raider Notes Chris Bahr's 45-yard field goal was his longest of the season. He has made 14 in 17 attempts. . . . Before Sunday, the Cowboys had won all 27 games in Texas Stadium in which Tony Dorsett had gained 100 yards. . . . Dorsett's 101 made him the second back to gain 100 against the Raiders in the last 26 regular-season games. The other was Joe Morris of the Giants, who got 110.

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