Sports

Commentary: It's safe to watch Raiders again

OAKLAND -- Finally, in something of an upset, it might be safe to turn on the television again. The Raiders are actually worth a peek.

On this particular Sunday, they certainly were worthy of more than a blackout.

They were interesting again, competitive again, successful again. They provided plenty of theatrics -- including that long-awaited quarterback swap and subsequent intrigue -- and against the sputtering Cleveland Browns, were downright entertaining, right down to the final second.

You had to see it to believe it.

The lucky few (51,075) who religiously grilled their burgers, swilled their beers and lowered their expectations before trudging into McAfee Coliseum observed another series of bold calls by rookie head coach Lane Kiffin, watched LaMont Jordan stubbornly churn for 121 yards, saw Rob Ryan's maligned defense produce two interceptions, and even more dramatically, converge for a blocked field goal that preserved the Raiders' first victory since last Oct. 29.

Kiffin was so excited afterward he seemed to forget where he was. Or who his boss happens to be. He jokingly thanked Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan for teaching him all about calling timeouts and freezing the opposing kicker when the outcome hangs in the balance.

"Oh, yeah," cracked Kiffin afterward, "that one was for Mike."

The next big test for the league's youngest head coach is scheduled for the next few days. Does he stick with Daunte Culpepper, the obvious crowd favorite who replaced a hobbled Josh McCown late in the opening half? Does he go back to McCown, the journeyman whose mobility and game management he has consistently praised? Does he rely on the assessment of the club's medical personnel before answering any of these questions? Or does he roll with these rarest of fun times, using McCown's foot injury as a wonderfully convenient crutch, and turn over the offense to the People's Choice?

I say, listen to the voters. Culpepper is eager and available, and McCown -- the poor guy -- he just can't win. He plays in pain, limps around on a sore foot, and yet the fans Sunday couldn't wait for someone to take him out of their misery.

When McCown was blindsided on the very first possession of the game, momentarily rescued when his fumble was snatched by Barry Sims, the booing began slowly, then gained enthusiasm by the play. The good-natured Texan was booed for overthrowing Mike Williams, and on the Raiders' ensuing possession, serenaded for every errant pass, every too-short scramble, every noticeable mistake, including an inability to escape the sack that sent him moving gingerly toward the sideline before halftime.

Concerned, Kiffin called a timeout, then turned to Culpepper, who had begun warming up moments earlier. As the longtime Minnesota Vikings star trotted onto the field at the 1:40 mark of the first quarter, he was greeted with rousing, sustained applause.

The fans erupted again when he found Jordan over the middle for five yards and stirred restlessly when McCown returned to the huddle moments later, only temporarily quieting the crowd with a perfect strike to Ronald Curry for a 41-yard touchdown.

But that proved to be the best of McCown, and at least on Sunday, the last of McCown.

Culpepper played the entire second half, and except for a deep throw that found a leaping Jerry Porter on the sidelines, was more balanced than spectacular. He directed two long scoring drives, relying heavily on the relentless, increasingly effective Jordan.

"I'm feeling very comfortable in the offense right now," Culpepper said. "My expectations are, when I'm called upon, to be ready. (But) when you are playing with guys like that (Jordan) who always give a second effort, it's going to be hard to beat."

Who gets the next chance? The one in Miami that a TV audience actually will be able to see?

Kiffin, as usual, is keeping his secrets. But you have to believe Culpepper gets the nod.

Don't you?

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