OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Nnamdi Asomugha sums up his performance after each Oakland Raiders game with a review and a grade in his trusty notebook that features tips and reminders about how to play cornerback.
The postgame summaries have been rather brief this year as Asomugha has become perhaps the loneliest man in football.
Spending nearly the entire game on an island in man-to-man coverage, Asomugha has been avoided by opposing teams as if he had an infectious disease. Superstar and rookie quarterbacks alike have preferred to pick on former Pro Bowler DeAngelo Hall or other defenders instead of challenging Asomugha.
``A lot of guys just don't want to deal with it,'' Carolina star receiver Steve Smith said. ``The way he plays, I kind of see why.''
ammad and the rest of Carolina's talented receiving corps.
``I still believe that the ball is going to come at some point, probably this week,'' Asomugha said.
He admits that he says that to himself every week in order to guard against complacency. But no matter what the team or how good the quarterback and receiver are, Asomugha has been rarely tested all year.
According to numbers compiled by STATS, Asomugha has had 16 passes thrown his way this season, with eight being caught. A few of those were short passes to running backs against a rare Raiders zone, meaning Asomugha has been tested even less downfield in man-to-man coverage, as evidenced by the 65 yards receiving he has allowed this season.
Yet he goes into each game believing he will be challenged because he knows that one slip-up can define a cornerback's day.
``I said Denver just because (Mike) Shanahan doesn't care. I said the Saints because they'd never played me. So every week it's something,'' he said. ``I said Brett Favre because he's Brett Favre. He's already in the Hall of Fame. There's nothing for him to prove.''
Avoiding Asomugha is made easier by the Raiders' defensive philosophy, which keeps him predominantly on the right side of the defense instead of locked up against the opposing team's best receiver.
So opposing teams just design their offenses to go to the other side of the field, like they did against Deion Sanders and other great cornerbacks.
``I remember, back when I was with the Giants, in Deion's hey day when he was with Dallas, he had that kind of reputation where people never really threw on him,'' Panthers coach John Fox said. ``I'd say he's playing, if not better, as well as anybody in the league right now.''
While Asomugha has never been to a Pro Bowl, his numbers this year stand up favorably to last year's picks at the position. Antonio Cromartie, Asante Samuel, Champ Bailey, Al Harris, Marcus Trufant and Terrence Newman have combined to allow 3.3 catches on 5.6 throws per game this season, significantly higher than Asomugha's numbers.
If the film wasn't enough to convince Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme of Asomugha's skills, he got a firsthand report from backup Josh McCown, who spent last season with the Raiders.
``He is extremely smooth, very big. He'll quick-jam you at the line of scrimmage and he runs effortlessly,'' Delhomme said. ``He's like a gazelle. Having Josh in the meeting room, he'll say he's good. He's one of the best he's ever been around. So he's extremely talented.''
While players and coaches frequently praise Asomugha, his stature has still not reached his level of play. In part because of his quiet confidence and in part because of the ineptitude of the Raiders during his six years there, Asomugha has struggled to get the publicity.
The Raiders have just a 21-67 record since Asomugha joined the team in 2003, and this year has been the most difficult of all for him. The first month of the season was dominated by talk of coach Lane Kiffin's feud with owner Al Davis.
After Kiffin was fired, the team has been blown out in three of four games under interim coach Tom Cable. And now, Asomugha is bewildered by the decision to release Hall.
``You're paid to deal with problems. At the same time, six years and running, you do get tired of a lot of things,'' he said. ``Mind, body and soul, everything, you do get tired. Straight up. No lie.''
The Panthers know they need to guard against looking to the dysfunction on the Raiders and the recent performances if they want to avoid an embarrassing slip-up that could hurt their chances at winning the NFC South.
Oakland managed just 77 yards of offense in last week's 24-0 loss to Atlanta, while the Panthers enjoyed a week off.
aking sure he hammers home the worst case scenario. We always talk about worst-case scenarios.''
---
AP Sports Writer Mike Cranston in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
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