Sometimes you just need a fresh face in the huddle. Someone with a different cadence, a new rhythm. Somebody with a little bit of nervous energy. A spark to light a fire under guys.
Somebody like Marques Tuiasosopo.
For the reeling Oakland Raiders, things were looking pretty dismal on Monday Night Football last week. Their once-mighty offense was sputtering again. Rich Gannon, the NFL’s MVP in 2002, had just 58 yards passing and an interception at the half. The Raider defense had played valiantly in holding Kansas City to just 10 points in the first two quarters, but with the way the offense was struggling, it appeared the Chiefs held an insurmountable lead.
And there would be more bad news when the Raiders returned from the locker room. Gannon, who had buckled under pressure from the Kansas City rush on the Raiders’ last possession of the half, found he had injured his throwing shoulder and couldn’t pass the ball without pain. He would have to sit out the rest of the game, handing control of the Silver and Black’s struggling offense over to a third-year player with just 10 pass attempts in his NFL career.
The crowd in Oakland groaned when they saw him step onto the field. They’d always perceived the backup quarterback position to be one of the weakest links in their team. They’d clung to the hope that the notoriously stubborn Gannon would never allow himself to be pulled from the game, no matter what the injury. They prepared for the worst. And in the third quarter, Tuiasosopo did not console them, throwing for just 19 yards and tossing a pick of his own.
But the Oakland faithful would have been well-served to take a look at the Raider media guide and do some investigating into Tui’s college exploits. Had they done their homework, they would have known that the fourth quarter belongs to the former University of Washington quarterback. Of the Huskies’ 10 wins in their 2000 Rose Bowl season, five of them were fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by Tuiasosopo.
So once the fourth quarter started, Tui naturally got the Raider offense in gear. After leading the Silver and Black on two scoring drives in the fourth, Tui was given the ball back at the six-yard line with 1:47 left on the clock, his team trailing by a touchdown. He methodically marched the Raiders downfield, finally throwing to Tim Brown on the goal line as time expired. The heroic comeback was nearly complete. But the 16-year veteran wideout could not break the plane of the end zone.
The result, despite all the drama, was a 17-10 loss that left the Raiders at 2-5, a full five games back of the 7-0 Chiefs in the AFC West. But from the ashes of the season, the Phoenix that is Tuiasosopo is rising.
By the end of the game, fans wearing Gannon’s No. 12 jersey were calling for a change of command. They had witnessed Marques’ moxie, and they wanted to taste more of it.
The quarterback controversy is officially on in Oakland.
Perhaps this is why the 38-year-old Gannon was so reticent to give Tui any snaps. With his injury still being examined, Raider head coach Bill Callahan fueled the fire during the week by refusing to name him the starter for the Detroit game next Sunday. (The Raiders had a bye this weekend)
Even the players, though they did not criticize Gannon, fanned the flames of controversy with their praise of the young quarterback. Future Hall-of-Famer Jerry Rice, who played with Marques’ father Manu Tuiasosopo on the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, compared him favorably to another former teammate.
“I looked at Marques in the huddle, and he reminded me of Joe Montana,” Rice said after the game. “He was very composed. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was able to do it.”
Looks like Oakland’s fresh face has already made an indelible impression.
With the season on the ropes, the Raiders would be well-served to give their aging MVP plenty of time to recover from his injury. Then again, if Gannon waits too long, the job might not be his to come back to.