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COMMENTARY

Raiders Need to Up the Risk Quotient

October 26, 2003|Bob Oates | Special to The Times

The 7-0 Kansas City Chiefs went through the entire game at Oakland Monday night without taking any chances. And that's one good way for the better team to play it.

The 2-5 Raiders, though, should have been looking for places to gamble, to be bold, even risky. When they didn't -- when in the fourth quarter they missed a splendid chance to take a chance -- their timidity beat them, 17-10.

Their backup quarterback, Marques Tuiasosopo, a surprisingly good one, had driven the Raiders to the Kansas City nine early in that fourth quarter when his coaches crept meekly into a shell.

Losing, 10-0, they called two running plays there, and then, on third and too long, they tried the pass they'd needed on first down.

Against the Chiefs' first-down run-play defense, an unexpected Tuiasosopo pass, which might have seemed risky with that new quarterback, would have been the Raiders' best bet.

Against a defense predictably anticipating a third-down pass, Tuiasosopo missed his end-zone target, but just barely, whereupon the Raiders kicked the field goal that wasn't enough.

For, in a wild finish, Tuiasosopo moved the Raiders twice more with beautiful passes -- nearly the length of the field both times. He drove them once to a touchdown and once into position for the field goal that would have been sufficient had his coaches played for seven points instead of three that first time at the Kansas City 10.

Instead, as time ran out, Tuiasosopo, needing a touchdown at the end of a 73-yard drive, fell 36 inches short. One yard.

Curse of Elway

The Denver Broncos are in Baltimore today with a team that continues to be plagued by "The Curse of John Elway," which is may take its place next to baseball's curses of the Bambino and the Billygoat.

When Elway departed after directing Denver to Super Bowl triumphs in 1998-99, his friends said it would be a cold day before the Broncos ever got back. And sure enough, the Broncos have since then had one mishap after another.

In a chilling calamity, quarterback Jake Plummer ended up with a broken foot four days before they lost at Minnesota last Sunday -- on two strange plays -- 28-20.

That day, Plummer's backup, Steve Beuerlein, broke a finger on his pitching hand, empowering third quarterback Danny Kanell as No. 1 even though Kanell had been out of the league two years.

Earlier, in the first four years of Elway's retirement, Brian Griese often seemed to be what Coach Mike Shanahan reasoned he was -- the quarterback answer -- but Griese mysteriously disappointed. Technically proficient, a good passer, he made more and more incomprehensible plays, apparently forgetting, among other things, that on a broken play, the ball can be thrown away.

At Denver, in other respects, Shanahan has usually had one of the NFL's great teams, sometimes the best of them all. He has produced one great running back after another along with spectacular receivers, good offensive lines and sound defenses.

And this year, Plummer, who is something of a cross between Joe Montana and John Elway, seemed to be the one thing Shanahan had lacked in this century -- a Super Bowl quarterback -- until the Elway curse intervened.

Viking Luck

The Minnesota Vikings, the NFC's only unbeaten team after six weeks, are this year's example of the heights that can be reached by pro athletes when they enjoy the luck of the schedule. Today, for example, the Vikings get to play the NFC East's worst team, the 2-4 New York Giants.

Last week, true, Minnesota had to play what was probably the NFL's best team, Denver, but when Denver quarterback Plummer was scratched because of a broken foot, the Broncos were reduced to a nothing team, making a tough day simple for the Vikings -- nearly as simple as their first five starts this year against opponents that were a combined 9-24 going into this week's games.

The best you can say for Minnesota at this point is that when a not-bad pro club gets on a roll, lucky or not, it sometimes keeps rolling.

Happily for the Vikings last week, it was Plummer's replacement in the Denver backfield, Beuerlein, who threw three interceptions and, otherwise, stood around five times until he was sacked. These eight errors, among many others, suggested that Beuerlein, a 13-year NFL veteran, has forgotten how to read defenses.

Either that or, under the influence of the Elway curse, he has come down with Griese's disease -- forgetting how to throw the ball away.

Accenting the obvious, the Broncos, a day or two later, put Beuerlein on injured reserve for the season.

In any case, against even an ordinary Denver quarterback, the Vikings probably couldn't have kept their undefeated status through Week 7. Strong on defense, the Broncos, owning a good blocking line, also have a notably effective ballcarrier, Clinton Portis, who, running up 117 yards, was the only 100-yard gainer on the Minneapolis field Sunday -- despite the fact that there was no countervailing Denver quarterback threat.

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