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FILE -- The job of Raiders starting quarterback is all Jason Campbell's, for better or worse, playoffs or no playoffs. (Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News)

The breathing on the back of his neck is gone, vaporized, and with it the doubt that had entered his mind.

Jason Campbell can go back to single-minded concentration on football.

After being subjected to the quickest quarterback hook in Raiders history --11/2 games before being replaced -- Campbell now operates with practically zero concern about being removed. The job is all his, for better or worse, playoffs or no playoffs.

The first 12 games of this season represent Campbell's trial by fire in Oakland. Having survived without the slightest trace of envy or bitterness, he is in a position where the next four, beginning in Jacksonville on Sunday, will determine not only whether the Raiders make the playoffs but also if they have their starting quarterback for the foreseeable future.

All Campbell has to do to on his behalf is stay healthy and play like a star.

And hope his running backs stay healthy and play like stars.

And hope his offensive line outdoes itself.

And hope rookie Jacoby Ford isn't the only receiver making impact plays.

So while the circumstances may present Campbell a wonderful opportunity, the conditions represent an enormous challenge.

"It's been a roller-coaster ride, not just for me but for a lot of guys on this team," Campbell said after practice Wednesday. "To be in the position we're in now, still in the fight and still in the hunt to try to do something special, it means a lot. Because of all the things you had to try to overcome, it just makes things that much more special if we're able to get it done."


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Never mind that Campbell has been the best quarterback on Oakland's roster ever since he arrived in an April trade with the Washington Redskins, or that this has been acknowledged by the same coaching staff that turned to backup Bruce Gradkowski at halftime of the second game.

Yanking Campbell only six quarters into his Raiders career was, oddly enough, less about his talent than liabilities elsewhere on offense. The move also spoke volumes about the desperation of coach Tom Cable and his offensive staff.

Now, though, Campbell is the unquestioned No. 1. Gradkowski, hurt 11 days ago, is done for the season, Kyle Boller clearly is No. 2, and J. T. O'Sullivan arrived five minutes ago.

Just as matters of urgency separated Campbell from his coaches, matters of urgency also brought them back together.

And Campbell rewarded Cable and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson with a masterful performance in a must-win game at San Diego last Sunday. Although running backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, along with solid line play, carried the offense, Campbell orchestrated the action and come up big when needed.

"He handled the entire game the best that we've seen him," Cable said. "That's what he's capable of."

Cable also concedes Campbell, 28, has grown into his role as a leader, settling in and taking charge. That development was slowed when Campbell was demoted, but he never let his temporary backup status affect his attitude.

To the contrary, Campbell utilized that time to learn about his team, his teammates and what benefits he might derive from his new playbook.

By the time he took the field last week, he was a comfortable and relaxed quarterback.

"A lot of that comes with time and a lot of that is learned with time," Campbell said. "A lot of times people want things to happen (immediately). Things in the NFL don't happen instantly. It takes time to build together and grow together. I just feel like over the weeks we have grown together."

To look closely is to see obvious parallels between the quarterback and the team. Both have been doubted. Both are on a mission to prove their worth, to themselves and to the NFL. Both could have folded in the face of adversity. Neither has.

"We won some big games, we lost some big games," Campbell said. "We had one game where we got beat badly; a couple games where we lost close; games we won close; games we won big.

"That just shows different things that go on during a season, a 16-game season. You have to be ready for all obstacles."

Campbell always has had the support of owner Al Davis, who by all accounts still envisions grand things for the quarterback. Campbell has gained -- through diligence, professionalism and production -- believers among his teammates and coaches.

All of which seems to have bolstered his own self-assurance and, beyond that, his own sense of belonging.

Campbell's task now is evident. He merely has to continue the magic act that debuted last Sunday.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.