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