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Gannon has broken vertebra in his neck

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) - Rich Gannon might lose a second straight season to injury.

The 2002 NFL MVP has a broken vertebra in his neck that will sideline him at least eight weeks. The Oakland Raiders quarterback underwent an MRI on Monday morning and was taken for more tests.

Coach Norv Turner didn't believe Gannon was at risk for paralysis and said the quarterback was walking around the team's training facility before receiving the news about his neck. Turner said Gannon will wear a hard neck brace for the next six weeks.

"He will be out an extended period," Turner said. "It's disappointing. ... It makes you sick to your stomach when any player puts as much into it as Rich has."

The injury gives the starting job to Kerry Collins, signed by the Raiders in the offseason as insurance for Gannon. Collins had an impressive preseason and directed the Raiders on four scoring drives in the 30-20 victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday night, going 16-of-27 for 228 yards and one touchdown.

"It's obviously a big part of the reason we did what we did during the offseason," Turner said.

Turner said it would be premature to speculate whether Gannon would end up on injured reserve for the second straight season. He hadn't told his team about Gannon's status before the Raiders broke team meetings for the day Monday afternoon. Gannon was unavailable for comment Monday.

"Are you kidding me?" running back Amos Zereoue said when learning of the news. "It's very unfortunate. He prepared himself to get ready for the season. I don't know what to say. ... It's part of the game. That's why the next man has to step up. Kerry did that and we have to lean on him to guide us."

The 38-year-old Gannon left in the first quarter Sunday night after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from linebacker Derrick Brooks.

Gannon ran for 2 yards during the Raiders' first offensive series and was stopped at the Bucs 5 by Brooks. Gannon grimaced in pain, but walked off the field on his own, looking groggy.

He was taken to the locker room for examination of his back, then returned to the sideline in the second half.

"One comment Rich made to me this morning was, 'I know better,"' Turner said of running in that situation. "It was a heck of a hit."

Turner said he wouldn't discourage his quarterbacks from running or scrambling, although Collins is unlikely to do that.

Gannon was hurt in a 17-10 loss to Kansas City last Oct. 20 and had shoulder surgery in November. He has said this offseason was one of the most productive in his 17-year career as he worked his way back.

"Unfortunately he went down before we had a chance to get on a roll. He's one of those guys I think is going to rehab and try to get back before six weeks," left guard Frank Middleton said. "He likes proving people wrong. I really think he'll be back before they say he's ready."

Gannon arrived at training camp 10 pounds lighter and has calmly brushed off talk he's on his way out only one season removed from leading the league's top-rated offense and earning NFL MVP honors during Oakland's Super Bowl season.

Gannon was determined to get the Raiders back on track after last season's ugly 4-12 finish.

"I know how important it is to him and to have the kind of injury and be out for an extended period of time, it's hard," Turner said. "Rich went through it a year ago and I know it was very hard on him. He's amazing what he's done."

Collins, 31, joined the Raiders in May after the New York Giants released him when they acquired No. 1 draft pick Eli Manning.

Collins, a nine-year veteran, threw for 3,110 yards with 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 2003.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Collins has a stronger arm than Gannon and his ability to throw deep fits well with Turner's new offense and owner Al Davis' model for a quarterback.

Collins wishes he hadn't earned the No. 1 job this way, but said he has to turn his focus to Sunday's game at Houston.

"I hate it for Rich," said Collins, who has been getting about a dozen plays a week in practice with the first-team offense. "Especially for a guy like Rich who loves to play so much. I know it's going to be hard for him."

Collins said he would expect Gannon to be the starter again once he's healthy. He realizes the Raiders brought him in as insurance, and has handled his position admirably.

"Did I want to play from Day One? Absolutely," he said. "But I was prepared to continue my role for the rest of the season. I hate that Rich got hurt."

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