Culpepper gets comfortable as Raiders win

If it was up to the crowd piled into McAfee Coliseum on Sunday, Daunte Culpepper would be the Raiders' starting quarterback for the rest of the season, regardless of the extent of Josh McCown's latest injury.

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin isn't so sure.

A week after completing only eight passes for 73 yards while battling a sprained right foot, McCown gave a good account of himself on Sunday, throwing for 108 yards while completing six of 12 passes, including a 41-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Ronald Curry.

However, none of that was good enough to change the fans' minds. As he came up lame after a two-yard scramble late in the first quarter, much of the home crowd began to cheer, much like the Raiders' crowd did when Dan Pastorini went down with a broken leg back in 1980. They quieted down when McCown started to rejoin the huddle.

After taking a few steps, the maligned quarterback left the game while Culpepper came on, much to the delight of the crowd which roared its approval. Culpepper stayed in for one play, completing a 5-yard dump-off to LaMont Jordan that led to a field goal before McCown returned on the next possession.

After Thomas Howard's interception gave the Raiders the ball on Cleveland's 24-yard line, McCown hit Mike Williams in the end zone for an apparent touchdown, only to watch as Williams had the ball knocked away from him.

McCown bounced back nicely when the Raiders got the ball back, using a play-action fake to get the Raiders in the end zone. On the eighth play of a drive that started on their own 7, McCown sucked rookie cornerback Eric Wright in the fake and hit a wide-open Ronald Curry for an easy 41-yard touchdown that gave the Raiders a 13-0 lead.

At halftime, however, Kiffin decided to pull the plug on McCown, who had suffered an injured left foot. While he went into the locker room to have it re-examined, Culpepper assumed the quarterbacking duties.

"Just watching Josh move around - he wanted to keep going, because he's a competitor - it was apparent to me at that time that Daunte gave us a better chance to win," said Kiffin, who added he won‘t name a starting quarterback for next week until the team finds out how serious McCown's injury is.

With Culpepper in, the offense revolved around the running game without much variation. Nonetheless, Culpepper completed eight of his 14 passes for 108 yards and orchestrated an 80-yard, 15-play drive that resulted in a touchdown in the third quarter, shortly after the Browns came back to take the lead.

"The more plays I got, the more comfortable I was getting," Culpepper said. "The running backs were just running the heck out of the ball, so it made it a lot easier for me to do what I had to do."

He was comfortable enough that, late in the fourth quarter, he completed a jump-ball pass for receiver Jerry Porter to convert on a crucial 3rd-and-10 with the Raiders hanging on to a two-point lead.

Kiffin agreed with Culpepper, that he has a firm grasp of the offense. It's just that he hasn't had the reps in practice yet.

"You don't want to call something that you put in just this week, that he hasn't had a rep at during practice," Kiffin said. "You've got to be smart."


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