Thursday, October 04, 2007

First-place Raiders in unfamiliar spot at quarter pole of NFL season

ALAMEDA, Calif. - One-quarter of the way through the season, the Oakland Raiders are in a very unfamiliar place: first place.

By winning back-to-back games, the Raiders (2-2) moved into a three-way tie with Denver and Kansas City atop the AFC West. It's an accomplishment that's only noteworthy because of how bad the Raiders have been in recent years.

Oakland has the worst record in the NFL the previous four seasons and hasn't been at the top of the AFC West after more than four games since winning the division in 2002 on the way to the Super Bowl.

With a week off to savour some rare early success, coach Lane Kiffin wants to make sure his players aren't content with how the team has played.

"We've been through four games and I'm not pleased where we're at. We should be 4-0," Kiffin said Monday. "We've taken the lead in every single game with less than nine minutes to go in the game. In my opinion, if you take the lead with nine minutes left in the game we should be winning the games. So we should be 4-0."

After blowing late leads the first two weeks to Detroit and Denver, the Raiders have shown a better ability to finish the past two games.

In Sunday's 35-17 victory over Miami, the Raiders scored touchdowns on their final three drives and only allowed the Dolphins to be on the field for 2:04 of the final quarter.

The Raiders ran on 19 of their 20 plays in the fourth quarter, gaining 134 yards on the ground. Their one pass play went for a 27-yard touchdown from Daunte Culpepper to Jerry Porter on third-and-seven.

"I was very proud the way our guys finished because as you guys know this team has not finished in these weeks here," Kiffin said. "So I was very pleased for the offence to finish with three touchdown drives in a row. The defence finished extremely well."

Kiffin rewarded the players for the team's first road win since 2005 by giving them two days off this week. They will regroup on Wednesday for two days of practice before taking the weekend off for the bye.

They will return next week to prepare for a game at San Diego, where they hope to snap a 15-game losing streak in the division.

Despite Culpepper throwing two touchdowns and running for three in his first start , Kiffin would not commit to keeping him as the starter after the bye week. Josh McCown is still recovering from a broken toe on his left foot and the Raiders aren't sure when he'll be back.

However, after playing the entire second half of the win against Cleveland and beating his former Dolphins team in the rain, Culpepper appears to have the starting job for now.

"I have great confidence in him and he didn't surprise me at all," Kiffin said. "He played really well, didn't turn the ball over, which is really important, especially in those conditions."

The other big question for the Raiders is at running back, where starter LaMont Jordan left late in the first half against the Dolphins with a back injury. X-rays were negative and he underwent further tests Monday. Kiffin did not know what Jordan's status would be for the Chargers' game.

Justin Fargas ran for 172 of his career-high 179 yards in the second half in place of Jordan. Also, Dominic Rhodes returns this week after missing the first four games with a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

"Our plan all along was to have guys carrying the ball, not just one guy carrying the ball all the time," Kiffin said. "Fargas stepped up and played great, exactly what we talked about, the next guy stepping up when somebody goes down. And now we'll add Dominic this week to the competition and let it play out."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lions RB Bell 'ticked off' about Raiders' trash talk

There are times in sports when having something named after you is considered an honor, such as the Heisman Trophy, the Stanley Cup or the Cy Young Award.

Then there are times when having something named after you isn't such an honor, such as the Tatum Bell Drill.

The Oakland Raiders took a swipe at the Lions' running back this week by naming a fumble-recovery drill after him. Last year, while playing with Oakland's AFC West rival, Denver, Bell had a career-worst five fumbles - all of which he lost.

News of the dubious honor didn't sit well with Bell on Friday.

“I'm still pissed off. I'm a little ticked off,” he said. “Maybe it's motivating (for) them. I don't know why. I ain't never had a fumble against them, so I don't know why they feel it's a problem. Oh, well. I'm going to look forward to playing them.”

Bell pointed out that in his three seasons with Denver, the Broncos had a 5-1 record against the Raiders. Bell's fumbling history isn't a concern for him or, it appears, for Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who said Friday that Bell likely would start Sunday.

“No, it ain't an issue at all,” Bell said. “I'm not thinking about it or nothing. I'm just going to go out and play my game, get a couple of dirty words in to some of the players.”

And he might not limit his discourse to guys in black jerseys.

“From the beginning of the game to the end of the game you might catch me out there jawing with a lot of those guys, maybe the coaches, too,” he said. “I'm going to find one of the defensive coordinators and tell him how I feel about it.”

Actually, there's only one defensive coordinator and Bell knows him well. Rob Ryan was the coordinator at Oklahoma State when Bell played for the Cowboys, and Ryan even showed Bell around the campus during a recruiting trip.

“So I know him and I always talk to him before the game,” Bell said. “This time it's going to be a little bit hard for me.”

Given equal time to devise a drill that he would choose to name after himself, Bell thought for a moment. The Tatum Bell Touchdown Drill was suggested. Bell smiled.

“That sounds good: touchdown drill,” he said. “I would do that and then go over and mess with their bench or something on the sideline.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ladies and Gents we have a deal.

The Raiders finally reached agreement on the major sticking point in the contract negotiations with No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell's agents by guaranteeing the quarterback at least $31 million, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Agreeing to that figure on a six-year contract clears the way for Russell's signing at any time, perhaps as soon as today.

"It just continues to sound like they are getting closer and closer," Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin said at his weekly news conference Monday. "It could be (Monday). You just never know. I know that the sides are as close as they've ever been."

ESPN reported Monday night that the two sides reached a contract agreement in principle that makes it possible for Russell to earn as much as $37.5 million in guarantees, with all but $3 million coming within the first three years. The report said Russell could earn as much as $68 million over the life of the contract and that he could be on the practice field by Wednesday.

The Raiders didn't comment publicly on the matter, which is in line with team policy on ongoing contract negotiations. Eric Metz, Russell's primary agent, did not return phone calls.

The two sides have haggled over several issues since the Raiders selected Russell with the first pick of the NFL draft April 28. The biggest of those issues was the insistence by Russell camp's on at least $31 million guaranteed. Houston Texans defensive end Mario

Williams, last year's No. 1 pick, received $26.5 million guaranteed.
Russell attended off-season workouts and all three of the team's mini-camps, but he missed all of training camp, four exhibitions and the season opener Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

Metz and Raiders officials met Friday to see if they could end the stalemate, and the talks continued through the weekend.

A breakthrough occurred once Metz and the Raiders worked out the parameters for Russell to receive at least $31 million guaranteed.

Kiffin said he isn't ruling out the possibility of Russell's being signed and with the Raiders before Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos.

"I wouldn't say I expect that, but I definitely wouldn't be surprised," Kiffin said.

The Raiders probably would receive a two-week roster exemption once Russell signs. After two weeks, Kiffin would have to decide if he wants to carry four quarterbacks or jettison one of the three on the roster - Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper and Andrew Walter.

• Kiffin said he won't issue any updates on injured center Jeremy Newberry and McCown's sprained right index finger until Wednesday.

Newberry said his left hamstring is extremely painful and that he isn't sure if he will be able to play Sunday.

"It depends on how it does the rest of the week, but I don't know," Newberry said. "I hope it gets better in a hurry."

Newberry sustained his injury while trying to push off on the infield dirt at McAfee Coliseum on the third play of Oakland's loss to the Lions. He left the game one play later and never returned. Jake Grove finished the game at center.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Starting out the season same ol way!

The more than 61,000 fans at McAfee Coliseum on Sunday roared. Those who booed quarterback Josh McCown for most of the second half now cheered. The Raiders had erased a 17-point deficit and taken their first lead.

Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin motioned for every player and coach to join the ever-growing love-fest on the field.

The Raiders led by one. They were about to put the game in the hands of their highly regarded defense. The lingering memories of last season's face-plant seemed so distant. Seven plays later, the Detroit Lions reclaimed the lead en route to a 36-21 victory in the season opener for both teams.

"We want the game in our hands, and it was at the end," Raiders safety Stuart Schweigert said. "We just didn't stop them. That's disappointing."

In truth, the Raiders didn't stop the Lions' wide-open offense for much of the game. Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna completed 27 of 36 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns, running back Tatum Bell amassed 87 yards in 15 carries, and the Lions cobbled together seven scoring drives.

"With that amount of points, we should be able to win football games," middle linebacker Kirk Morrison said of Oakland's 21. "We felt like we (had) them right where we wanted them. We just didn't finish."

The deflating effort put a damper on Kiffin's NFL coaching debut and overshadowed a somewhat inspiring performance from a team that scored only 12 offensive touchdowns in 16 games last season.

The Raiders scored 21 points in an 8-minute, 21-second span that consisted of 18 plays for 159 yards, two McCown passes for touchdowns and LaMont Jordan's 12-yard touchdown run.
Kitna said he and his teammates expected some tense moments in the second half. A locker room confab put them in the proper mind-set.

"We said, `If adversity comes, we have to handle it and bounce back, because that is the thing that has killed us in the past,' " Kitna said. "That's what happened last year. I said it during the off-season, `How we handle adversity will be the telling sign for this football team.' We are beginning to turn the corner."

Jordan said the Raiders are "going to be sick" when they watch videotape of the game today.

The tape will show three missed field-goal attempts by kicker Sebastian Janikowski, McCown throwing two passes that were intercepted and parlayed into 10 points, and the Lions marching up and down the field.

Lost in the mix will be wide receiver Ronald Curry's 10 receptions for 133 yards and one touchdown, Jordan's 159 yards rushing and receiving, McCown completing 75 percent of his 40 passes for 313 yards, interceptions by Morrison and Stanford Routt and a solid performance by the offensive line.

"It was right there," Kiffin said. "We popped back, took the lead. We just didn't finish."

Yet, this loss felt different from the 14 the Raiders endured last season, many players said. Contributions came on offense and defense. The Lions weren't able to run and hide from the Raiders once they built a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter, as many teams did last season.

"We got high hopes for this team," Curry said.

And the Raiders had high hopes of pulling out an improbable victory once McCown and fullback Justin Griffith connected for a 7-yard touchdown with 7:49 left. The Raiders still felt confident when they trailed 26-21 but had the ball with 4:06 left.

Two plays later, McCown's sideline pass for receiver Mike Williams landed in defensive end Dewayne White's hands. Then, one play after the Lions increased the lead to 29-21, McCown fumbled, tight end Zach Miller recovered but fumbled it back to the Lions.

End of comeback, though optimism remains.

"We're looking better," Jordan said. "You always want to look better than you did last year because we looked awful last year. Taking the next step is becoming a winning team, and we, obviously, didn't do that."

Monday, September 03, 2007

Will Jamarcus Russell ever play in the NFL???

JaMarcus Russell is still holding out—to his own detriment.

Russell has the perfect chance to revive a struggling Oakland Raiders franchise. What's more, Raiders owner Al Davis loves minorities, and will pay the kid everything he's worth

As it stands, though, JaMarcus has only managed to prove two things by playing the villain in his contract negotiations: He cares about money more than football, and he wasn't ready to come out of LSU in the first place.

Russell doesn’t deserve the jumbo contract he's asking for. He's not Reggie Bush or Vince Young—both of whom, by the way, signed early and played in every preseason game as rookies.

Reggie took the Saints to the NFC Championship Game; Young earned NFL Rookie of the Year honors. JaMarcus, on the other hand, hasn’t even made a proposal to help the Raiders understand where he's coming from...though he has been partying like a rock star since becoming the first pick in the 2007 Draft.

The fact of the matter is that Russell wasn't the best QB at the predraft combines—and that he won’t be the best rookie QB, even if he plays. If he doesn't, he'll be the first ever No. 1 pick to never suit up in the NFL.

If nothing else, Russell's holdout is turning heads in the African American community, where we've learned that football has become more about money than playing the game.

Larry Johnson came into the league as the best running back in his draft—and yet he got a small contract. Since then, he's made history. Russell, on the other hand wasn't even the best in his draft class, and only came out because the class was so weak.

If the holdout continues, Daunte Culpepper may well win the hearts of Oakland fans. Even if JaMarcus does ultimately sign, he might hold more value as trade bait than as a starting QB.

If JaMarcus were smart, he'd fire both his PR man and his agent—because they're killing his value before he's even taken snap. Some day, we may be wondering whatever happened to that No. 1 pick who never played a down in the NFL.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Betting odds on Oakland Raiders to win

Much is expected this football season from the Oakland Raiders and from the new head coach Lane Kiffin, after a horrible season in 2006, when the Raiders finished a league-worst with record 2-14 and only 12 touchdowns throughout the entire season. Lane Kiffin, who replaced Art Shell, is the youngest in the NFL at 31 years old, and the former USC offensive coordinator would have the though jobs to turn an offense, which finished 32nd out of 32 teams, into something at least mediocre and the Oakland Raiders will have a shot this season.

Surprisingly, the defense last year was as solid as a rock, one of the best in the league. Most of the defense playmakers are young and we could see even better performance this football season from the Raiders' D. But the offense will have to be completely rebuilt if the Oakland Raiders want to stand a chance in 2007. They took quarterback LaMarcus Russell out of LSU with the first pick of the NFL draft, but the starting job may go to the veteran QB Josh McCown, who was acquired from Detroit in a draft-day trade. Many experts, however, remain skeptical that a new head coach and a new quarterback would be able to work smoothly together.

The Oakland Raiders took the third preseason game with a 20-10 victory against the St. Louis Rams, but lost the preseason finale to the Seattle Seahawks 19-14. Johnnie Lee Higgins returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown, and James Adkisson caught a five-yard pass for the other Raiders score.

But until the team shows improved offense at the regular season games, the betting odds on the Oakland Raiders remain quite grim. They are underdog in every competition, and these are the latest betting odds on the Oakland Raiders, as posted by the online sportsbook Bodog Sports.

Oakland Raiders odds to win the AFC: 33/1

Oakland Raiders odds to win the AFC West: 10/1

Odds on the Raiders to win the 2008 Super Bowl: 75/1

How many NFL regular season wins betting lines on the Raiders: over 51/2 wins (-110); under 51/2 (-120)

Friday, August 31, 2007

Seahawks rally to top Raiders

SEATTLE (Ticker) -- In a game that lacked big names, but had a number of big plays, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Oakland Raiders, 19-14, on Thursday in the preseason finale for both teams.

Daunte Culpepper, bidding to earn the starting quarterback job with the Raiders, completed 11-of-19 passes for 108 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

He hit 7-of-8 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown pass to tight end James Adkisson as the Raiders retook the lead, 14-12, with 3:34 to go in the third quarter.

Seattle running back Marquis Weeks converted two short runs to extend a scoring drive before capping it with an 11-yard run give the Seahawks a 19-14 lead with 10:38 to go in the game.

Reserve wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins opened the scoring with a 90-yard punt return to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead.

Seattle backup QB Seneca Wallace, who completed 12-of-26 passes for 181 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, connected with Nate Burleson from 6 yards out for Seattle's first lead, 10-7.

Josh McCown, battling Culpepper for the starting job, completed only 5-of-12 passes for 75 yards before leaving with 2:59 left in the first half.

Seattle linebacker Darryl Tapp tackled Dominic Rhodes in the end zone for a safety with 2:49 to go in the first half to extend Seattle's lead to 12-7 at halftime.

Rhodes, who will be suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy, carried 10 times for 29 yards. Wideout Mike Williams, a former first-round draft selection of Detroit, had three catches for 51 yards.

Seahawks defensive tack Marcus Tubbs left the game in the first quarter with a sprained right knee and did not return. Seattle also lost rookie cornerback Josh Wilson, the team's No. 1 pick, midway through the third quarter with a left hip injury.

The Raiders' Culpepper and McCown try to make their case

SEATTLE - Identifying a starting quarterback was among Raiders Coach Lane Kiffin's top priorities when he was hired Jan. 22.

More than seven months later, the search continues. Andrew Walter was removed from the competition based on his inconsistent play during three mini-camps, training camp and three exhibition games. Rookie JaMarcus Russell's chances fizzled with his failure to sign a contract.

That leaves nine-year veteran Daunte Culpepper and six-year veteran Josh McCown to battle for a job neither was in the running for four months ago. Kiffin is expected to name a starter for Oakland's season opener Sept. 9 soon after tonight's exhibition finale against the Seattle Seahawks.

Culpepper has performed the best in the exhibitions but said he isn't sure if he has done enough to be considered the clear-cut choice.

"I feel I've got a lot to offer a club," Culpepper said. "I feel like I'm a starter, but, at the same time, I feel like we've got a really good team and can go a long way (no matter who plays quarterback)."

Culpepper's surgically repaired right knee no longer is a concern, and he has done an impressive job learning the offense since signing July 29, Kiffin said.

"We signed Daunte to compete to be the starting quarterback, and that's exactly what he's done," Kiffin said. "If he's the starter, he's the starter. That's the first conversation I had (with him) before we ever signed him, making sure he understood he's going
to get a great shot at being the starting quarterback. He may not be the starter; he may be the backup, and I needed to know how he was going to handle that. He was great about it."
McCown got a three-month jump on Culpepper in terms of learning the offense. He was acquired from the Detroit Lions at the end of April and immersed himself in the playbook.

McCown's long hours of studying the playbook, meeting with coaches and working with his teammates in practice initially created a huge gap between McCown and Culpepper, Kiffin said.

"I got here before him so I got a little bit of a jump on him as far as learning the offense," McCown said. "We're both still relatively new to this thing, as is everybody, for that matter. At the same time, I just go out and work and I don't put any (pressure) on myself."

Culpepper has narrowed that gap considerably and made this a "two-man race," Kiffin said.

The wide-open competition has pushed all the quarterbacks and made each one better, those involved say. In turn, McCown and Culpepper said, that figures to make the Raiders a better team.

"Coach Kiffin brought a (good) staff in here, and they're a no-nonsense group of coaches," Culpepper said. "I like that. They want to coach all the players that want to be coached, and that brings out the best in all players."

McCown and Culpepper are expected to receive limited playing time tonight, Kiffin said. Perhaps they'll do enough for Kiffin to feel good about making a decision seven-plus months in the making.