Collins gives Turner something to think about

It can't get much better than this for Norv Turner, at least not in the regular season.

His Raiders took control of Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in third quarter and spent the fourth quarter playing for pleasure. The Oakland offense was productive, Turner's boss was pleased and the home crowd was high on life.

Warren Sapp? Happier than a bear bathing in honey.

This 30-20 spanking of the Bucs Sunday night at Network Associates Coliseum was, one injury aside, Norv's breakthrough night in his brief tenure as head coach of the Raiders.

For as joy spread through the aisles and into the streets, Turner's starting quarterback was on the sideline in a windbreaker and a baseball cap, trying to ease the pain in his neck.

From this ache we presume Rich Gannon will recover.

Then what?

What will Turner do?

Will he stay with Kerry Collins, the veteran backup and physical presence who presided over a Raiders offense that for the first time this season looked as it was advertised?

Or will the coach go back to Gannon, the fiery designated starter one year removed from being the league MVP, whose greatest asset is his tool box of intangibles?

"That took about three seconds,"

Turner cracked when asked about his plans at quarterback.

Turner did not offer the stock response. He did not say the job belongs to Rich, as long as he is healthy.

"That's something we're going to evaluate when we see how Rich is doing," Turner said.

Soldiers of the Raider Nation, let the debate begin.

Gannon was waylaid by nasty helmet-to-helmet collision on Oakland's first series. Then with the score at 3-3 late in the opening quarter, Collins entered for the first time this season and made his case.

It was, with the exception of one glaring instance of brainlock, a fairly potent argument.

Playing a little more than three quarters and confining all but three passes to the middle quarters, Collins completed 16 of 27, for 228 yards and one touchdown.

The Raiders accumulated 399 total yards, most of which came before the fourth quarter, which they began with a 30-6 lead.

Collins' pass-efficiency rating was a solid 83.6, falling below 100 after his last pass was intercepted by Brian Kelly with 9:58 to play.

What caught the eye, though, was not Collins' statistics but his method. He generally did as Turner has said he'd like his quarterbacks to do and as Raiders owner Al Davis is known to prefer.

And as Gannon does on occasion.

Collins squared up and fired downfield, his attacks almost exclusively vertical.

He rifled a 31-yarder to Doug Gabriel, a 15-yarder to Alvis Whitted.

Collins fired an 18-yarder that stuck to the left hand of Jerry Rice, then lofted a 19-yard touchdown to Ronald Curry.

In short, Collins got the ball to four different wideouts, each for no less than first-down yardage -- all in the second quarter.

He found Jerry Porter, too, dropping in a pass caught in stride for 27 yards on the first drive of the third quarter.

"I just tried to keep my emotions in check," Collins said. "I just tried to execute the offense, and I feel I did that pretty well."

There were no fumbled snaps and no annoying false starts, no sign of the kind of mishaps that often occur with a sudden change at quarterback.

It was, all in all, a velvety transition.

"It really felt good, like we didn't drop off at all," tackle Barry Sims said.

"I was excited about the way we were moving the ball when Rich was in," Turner said. "And when Kerry came in, it continued."

That is an understatement.

Though the Raiders finished Gannon's only drive with a field goal, they set sail once Collins entered the game. Each of the first five drives with him in charge concluded with a score or an opportunity to score.

It was field goal, missed field goal, touchdown, another field goal and another touchdown.

There was no sign of punter Shane Lechler until the fourth quarter, when the game was pretty much decided. All the subplots and storylines and vendettas had been navigated.

What is not decided is the matter of quarterback in Oakland.

What we have here is more quandary than controversy. What will Norv do? He'll enjoy the victory, for sure, then he'll make a decision bound to tick off a significant portion of the fan base.

In any case, the seeds have been sown. With each spiral whistling downfield, off the arm of Collins.