The Oakland Raiders are out of playoff contention but the last four games will have different yet continued meaning for various players over the last four games of the season.
For the younger players, such as safety Nnamdi Asomugha, defensive end Tyler Brayton and tight end Teyo Johnson, the objective is to continue showing that they could perhaps be contributors for a contending Raider team in the future.
There are a handful of veterans who have received more playing time because of injuries to starting players. Their objective is to show that they still can be valuable players, whether it's for the Raiders or another ballclub.
Wheatley was only a sporadic part of the offense for the first eight games of the season. He carried 35 times for 137 yards and one touchdown. Wheatley, however, has been a much more significant part of the offense once starter Charlie Garner got hurt.
In his last four games, Wheatley has carried 82 times for 346 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The nine-year veteran has helped enable Oakland's transition from a passing team to a team that relies on the ground game.
Wheatley was the 17th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft by the New York Giants, who released him after four largely unfulfilled seasons after an outstanding college career at the University of Michigan. Wheatley went to camp with Miami before getting released and then picked up by Oakland. Wheatley's best two seasons were 1999 and 2000 when he combined to rush for 1,982 yards.
"It's your learning tool," Wheatley said. "It's a self-scouting issue. When you look at the film you continuously want to get better. In this game you never stay the same. There are constantly guys coming in and proving themselves."
The much-traveled Santiago, meanwhile, was out of football last season. Santiago appeared to be nothing more than an insurance policy when the Raiders signed him as a free agent during the offseason. Oakland, however, sustained injuries at that spot and Santiago's blocking prowess has elevated him to a starting role that has helped Oakland's running game.
"I think you make a mistake if you don't treat these last four games than you did your last four games," Santiago said. "I think it boils down to being a professional and you have a job to do."
Mirer has since become a starter since Rich Gannon and Marques Tuiasosopo are on injured reserve. Mirer's career has been mostly unfulfilled since being drafted in the first round by Seattle from Notre Dame after a stellar college career. Mirer, however, has been much traveled but has given the Raiders efficient play at quarterback.
"It's an important time for a lot of guys whether they stay here or go somewhere else," Mirer said. "As a professional, you have to take care of your business."
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org