By: Christopher Price
September 05, 2005

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Oakland wide receiver Jerry Porter doesn't have the freaky nickname, the wild hair, the gaudy numbers or the questionable rep that teammate Randy Moss has. But when the Raiders step on the field Thursday night to meet the Patriots, Oakland's No. 2 receiver may be every bit as important to the Raiders' success against New England as his much more celebrated teammate.

Don't believe me? Try this one on for size: The last two years, the Patriots have had the best defense in the league against No. 1 receivers. Last season, they intercepted a league-high 11 passes intended for opposing No. 1 receivers. No matter his stats, that doesn't bode well for Moss, who has never done well against the Patriots, and will likely face blanket coverage from a variety of defensive schemes Thursday night at Gillette.

Here's the strange part: Last year, New England had the worst defenses in the league against No. 2 receivers. Second options like Johnnie Morton of Kansas City (5 catches, 107 yards), T.J. Houshmandzadeh of Cincinnati (12 catches, 145 yards) and Marty Booker of Miami (7 catches, 123 yards) enjoyed big days against the Patriots, while only two of the "primary targets" New England faced in 2004 went over 100 receiving yards in one game against New England -- Buffalo's Eric Moulds and St. Louis' Torry Holt -- because New England was so focused on stopping their opponents' top passing option.

So yesterday morning -- while everyone was talking about Moss and how he can change the game -- the Patriots' defense reminded the media yesterday that despite the fact that he's been suffering from a nagging hamstring injury since the start of training camp, you might want to also keep an eye on Porter when the Oakland offense lines up at the start of Thursday night's game.

"He's a great athlete. He's big, he's strong, he's fast and he's proven -- he's done it in the past,” said veteran linebacker Willie McGinest, who faced Porter in a celebrity basketball game in the offseason. "A lot of people are just talking about Randy, but he's also a big weapon you can't look past.”

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Porter has been one of the NFL's best-kept secrets since he came into the league out of West Virginia in 2000. He spent a year or two learning at the foot of legends like Jerry Rice and Tim Brown before getting the call as the Raiders' primary receiving target last season, when he blossomed as the starter in Oakland's deep threat offense, starting all 16 games at receiver and setting new career highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (998) and tying a career high with nine touchdown catches.

He was relegated to second-banana status again this season with the arrival of Moss, but that doesn't mean the New England defense thinks any less of him. In fact, both coaches and players said yesterday that it's not just the Moss/Porter duo they need to keep an eye on when the Raiders take to the air. Despite the fact that Doug Gabriel is still recovering from an operation on his dislocated left middle finger and Ronald Curry (torn Achilles' tendon) and Carlos Francis (torn ACL in left knee) are trying to regain their form after serious injuries last season, the entire Oakland receiving corps is one the Patriots' need to take very seriously, said Head Coach Bill Belichick.

"I'm not saying they're as good as Moss, but they can all run,” Belichick said. "Those guys are all big-time, big-time speed guys.”

"If you put all your focus on one man, that gives the other guy an opportunity to the other guy to do his thing,” said cornerback Asante Samuel.

"They have some other good receivers nobody is talking about,” McGinest said. "You just can't talk about Randy. Porter has been real productive too. And those other guys, they're really good too. We're not just preparing for one guy. We're preparing for everybody.”

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and He can be reached at [email protected]