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Beuerlein Makes His Return a Turn for the Better

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

They were all gone Sunday, one way or another.

Marc Wilson is living in limbo in suburban Seattle, still waiting for a job offer, hoping there is life after the Raiders.

Jim Plunkett is living in retirement in Northern California, learning there is life after football.

Rusty Hilger is living in Detroit, experiencing life as the Lions’ quarterback.

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Jay Schroeder is on the sidelines at the Coliseum, hoping there is still life for him with the Raiders.

But it is 23-year-old Steve Beuerlein, having had just 3 pro starts, who finally has the job they all wanted so badly.

Wednesday, Raider Coach Mike Shanahan handed Beuerlein that job as the team’s starting quarterback.

Sunday, Beuerlein took hold of it. Not spectacularly, but firmly and with a confidence that seems to belie his years.

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This was the first time he had the job without qualification. Not if this guy can’t cut it, or that guy doesn’t sign, or the other guy isn’t ready.

Just plain had the job. Period.

Beuerlein responded by completing 18 of 29 attempts for 248 yards in leading the Raiders to a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Against a tough defense, he played ball-control offense and it worked.

“It’s a win,” he said. “It’s a start. I’m learning more and more every day. Hopefully, I’ll be learning for a long time.

“I felt I had a good grasp of the game plan. It was just a matter of making the reads. I was getting great protection up front, and people were running great routes and making great catches. The rest is a piece of cake.”

Maybe so, but for a long time, it looked more as if this season was going to be pretty hard to swallow for Beuerlein. Eight months ago, he figured to have this job like Mickey Hatcher figured to be a World Series hero.

Even after Wilson was not re-signed and Plunkett and Hilger were cut, Beuerlein only appeared to be keeping the seat warm for Schroeder.

On opening day at the Coliseum, Beuerlein led the Raiders to victory, only to learn hours later that his team had obtained Schroeder in a trade with the Washington Redskins. The Raiders were not ready to hand the controls of the team over to a kid who, hours earlier, had taken his first snap from center in a regular-season game.

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When the Raiders returned to the Coliseum 2 weeks later, Beuerlein still had the job while Schroeder continued his crash course to learn the Raiders’ playbook. But that afternoon was perhaps even more demoralizing for Beuerlein than the day of the Schroeder trade. Beuerlein found himself subjected to a Ram pass rush rivaling the days of the Fearsome Foursome and was sacked 9 times.

Exit Beuerlein, enter Schroeder a week later, right on schedule.

But, Beuerlein insists, he wasn’t buying this master plan. Oh, he picked up his clipboard and played the good soldier, relaying plays, and advice when asked.

“During my time on the bench, I was always dreaming about coming back,” he said. “I pictured it. And I was determined that whenever it happened, I was going to get myself ready, whether it was this year or a year or two from now. So sitting on the bench was not as hard as one might think.”

When Schroeder, unable to adjust to the Raider scheme of things, was benched, Beuerlein was back sooner than he had figured.

And this time, he found himself operating behind a much tighter offensive line. Given precious seconds to react to the Chiefs that he had not been given against the Rams, Beuerlein responded with some big passes and a key 2nd-quarter run that set up what proved to be the winning touchdown.

Faced with a 3rd and 2 at the Kansas City 47-yard line and finding all his receivers covered, Beuerlein, never known for his mobility, took off and picked up 12 yards.

“All I could see was green grass in front,” he said. “I was just going to run as long as I could.”

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Raider receiver James Lofton was a direct beneficiary of Beuerlein’s big day. He had a big one of his own with 5 catches for 68 yards. Now in his 11th season, Lofton has seen a quarterback or two and he liked what he saw Sunday.

“The important thing about Steve was there he was able to be patient out there, to take the things that were available,” Lofton said. “He did not try to extend the offense.

“They (the Chiefs) have good corners, and if you try to sit up there and throw bombs, they are going to match you step for step. If you try to run the deep posts, (safety Deron) Cherry is not going to let you have the middle. Steve understood that.

“While he was on the sidelines the last few games, he didn’t pout. He learned.”


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