OAKLAND, Calif. — When the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders last met less than two months ago, quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Carson Palmer found themselves in far different situations than their current ones.
Tebow was sitting behind Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn as the third-stringer in Denver, where fans pleaded to see him get a chance to play in the Broncos 23-20 loss to the Raiders.
Palmer was back home in Southern California in a forced retirement because of his refusal to play with the Cincinnati Bengals anymore.
The two former Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks will be on center stage Sunday in Oakland when the Broncos (2-5) visit the Raiders (4-3) looking to prove their skeptics wrong.
Tebow is trying to show that the determination and intensity that helped make him one of the most accomplished college players ever can translate to the pros even if his many vocal critics in the media maintain he lacks the polished passing game necessary to succeed in the NFL.
"You're going to have people that praise you and people that criticize you and everything in between," he said. "If I listened to everything that you all say, my world would be so up and down. ... If I rode the roller coaster of what everybody says about me then my life would be a lot more hectic than what it is."
Because of his remarkable success and popularity at Florida after winning two national championships and the 2007 Heisman Trophy, Tebow has probably gotten more attention and scrutiny than any other quarterback with five career starts.
His backers point to his comeback win two weeks ago in Miami as evidence of what he can accomplish with will and grit. His bashers have had much more ammunition as Tebow was ineffective for the first 55 minutes against the Dolphins and then looked overmatched in a 45-10 loss to Detroit last week.
And they haven't been quiet about it as many of the Lions and former players in the media have trashed Tebow at every opportunity.
"It's rough to see all the guys bash him and see the media bash him. But it's part of it. It comes with the territory," said Raiders receiver Louis Murphy, who played with Tebow at Florida. "He's going to come out fighting this week. Doesn't matter. He's going to come out and fight. He's a competitor. That's what he does."
Tebow has completed 46.1 percent of his passes this season and has been sacked 13 times in his two starts. The Broncos had eight possessions of three plays or fewer against Detroit, turned it over once on downs and three times on takeaways, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
"It's never as good as it seems and it's never as bad as it seems, we've just got to keep even keel, keep grinding and keep getting better," Tebow said.
Tebow made his first career start in Oakland last December and it was typical of much of his time in the NFL — a few spectacular highlights mixed around mostly pedestrian quarterback play. He threw a 33-yard TD pass and ran for a 40-yard score, but finished 8 for 16 for 138 yards in a 39-23 loss.
"He made some pretty good throws. He's definitely got the talent and the ability," Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt said. "Tebow is obviously a winner. He's won two national championships and two Heisman Trophys. If we don't come to play, this could get ugly."
Palmer is also looking to bounce back from a rough outing. He made his Raiders debut two weeks ago when he relieved Kyle Boller in the third quarter of a 28-0 loss to Kansas City and threw three interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
That debacle came just five days after he was acquired by the Raiders to replace injured starter Jason Campbell. Palmer knew only a handful of plays, had just three practices to learn his receivers and was still getting used to throwing with pads again.
After a learning intensive bye week when the receivers stayed in town to get extra work with their quarterback, Palmer said there's no comparison to that first appearance.
"I am comfortable with the entire playbook, comfortable with the guys, comfortable with the snap count, where to stand in the huddle-every little bit that I've been around here, every second that I've had, I just learn more and more," he said.
While Palmer once was considered one of the NFL's top quarterbacks, he struggled his last few years in Cincinnati as his arm strength was hampered by an elbow injury.
That led some skeptics to question whether the Raiders gave up too much when they sent a 2012 first-round pick and a second-rounder in 2013 that becomes a first if Oakland makes the AFC title game to Cincinnati for a quarterback .Comment on this story
"People on TV, they're like, 'Oh, he doesn't have the arm strength,'" said Raiders receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "They don't know what they're talking about."
Houshmandzadeh played six seasons with Palmer with the Bengals and works out with him every offseason. He said he noticed this summer that the arm strength was finally back, something Palmer credits to being able to rest his arm during the lockout.
With his arm healthy and his comfort level rising, the Raiders hope they can see the Palmer of old instead of just an old Palmer.
"He knows his teammates, he knows what this offense is now and what it needs to be, and the players can sense that confidence now," coach Hue Jackson said. "It's like riding a bike. Once you know how to do it, you don't forget."