The Raiders' game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers not only represents a chance for Oakland to be in the playoffs but also serves as a referendum on the Carson Palmer deal.
"That's why we made the trade, to have this opportunity," coach Hue Jackson said Wednesday. "If not, then why do it? It's about winning."
On Oct. 18, two days after starting quarterback Jason Campbell was lost because of a broken right collarbone in a win over Cleveland, Jackson pried loose Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals were adamant about not trading Palmer, who vowed to sit out the season rather than return to the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2003. Jackson, who had worked for the Bengals and had a relationship with their president, Mike Brown, got together with Raiders owner Mark Davis and CEO Amy Trask and made Brown an offer he couldn't refuse.
It cost the Raiders a first-round draft pick in 2012 and a second-round pick that could be upgraded to a No. 1 in 2013 if the Raiders advance to the conference title game.
Reviews of the trade were split between those who thought the Raiders gave up too much for a quarterback who turned 32 on Tuesday and those who considered it a bold gamble by a team not interested in waiting another season to make a playoff run.
Results have been mixed as well. The Raiders are 4-5 since the trade, 4-4 with Palmer as the starter.
Everything comes to a head Sunday, when Palmer leads the Raiders against the Chargers with a chance to win the AFC West or earn a wild-card berth, depending on the result between Kansas City and Denver as well as the outcomes involving wild-card contenders Cincinnati, Tennessee and the New York Jets.
Palmer has no problem with Jackson putting it on the quarterback's shoulders.
"Pressure is part of the position," Palmer said. "I've been playing for a long time. It doesn't need to be said to me by the coach. I understand that."
Palmer has erased any concerns about the strength of his throwing arm stemming from an elbow injury that occurred with the Bengals, as evidenced in the Raiders' 16-13 overtime win Saturday over Kansas City with a 61-yard touchdown strike to Denarius Moore and a 53-yard overtime hookup with Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Through nine games, Palmer's average of 8.2 yards per pass attempt is the highest of his career by a considerable margin.
The flip side is a 5.3 percentage rate of interceptions (15 interceptions in 285 attempts) that is the highest of his career and more than double the 2.4 mark of Campbell before his injury. Palmer threw two more against Kansas City, one to Derrick Johnson in which Palmer was hit while throwing, the other one directly to Javier Arenas.
"Sometimes it's a bad read, a bad throw, a bad route," Palmer said. "There's a number of issues. If you find a trend, you need to change it. I personally need to make better decisions at certain times."
Palmer prides himself on his ability to stay in the pocket, take a hit and deliver the ball -- and sometimes the desire to make a play gets the best of him.
"I have great expectations of Carson, but he's human and every now and then, things do happen," Jackson said. "But the guy is playing good enough football for us to win, and that's what matters."
Whether it's an interception or a touchdown pass, right tackle Khalif Barnes said it's impossible to tell the difference once the next series begins.
"It's water off his back," Barnes said. "He's a true leader. He's been in this league, he knows if something didn't go right, he can't let it affect him. He does a great job of that."
In the Raiders' 24-17 win over San Diego on Nov. 10, Palmer had his best game this season, completing 14 of 20 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
"He made some good throws, great throws," San Diego safety Eric Weddle said by conference call. "He kept the ball out of our hands and in theirs. We have to mix things up, make it tough on him, and when he throws it up there, be in a position to make plays."
San Diego (7-8) at Raiders (8-7), 1:15 p.m. CBS