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Raiders fans grumble after loss to Lions

Oakland quarterback controversy continues as McCown feels the heat during a 36-21 defeat.

September 10, 2007|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- If the Raiders thought the excitement of opening day might offer a reprieve from their festering quarterback drama, they were wrong.

All weekend, rumors swirled around negotiations with top draft pick JaMarcus Russell. Maybe the former Louisiana State quarterback was close to signing. Maybe he wasn't.

At the same time, debate rumbled over who should start for now, Josh McCown or Daunte Culpepper. A banner unfurled along the railing at McAfee Coliseum summed up the situation.

"QB?"

McCown got the nod, but his performance in a 36-21 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday fell short of providing a clear answer to the question.

One minute, he was completing a string of passes, guiding the Raiders to a lead. The next, he was suffering a critical interception.

The fans -- they can be impatient with quarterback controversies -- booed, grumbled and otherwise headed for the exits.

"They pay money for their tickets and they have the right to do what they want," McCown said, adding later: "I'm not going to hang my head."

Coach Lane Kiffin was equally stoic, the former USC assistant making his debut as one of the youngest coaches in NFL history. He pointed to his defense, which surrendered a lead late in the game.

"We need to find a way to finish better than we did today," he said.

The game matched a pair of teams looking for a fresh start. Oakland stumbled to a 2-14 record last season; Detroit wasn't much better at 3-13.

Though the Raiders showed signs of improvement early on -- the offensive line looked stronger -- there were familiar penalties and miscues. In the first half alone, Sebastian Janikowski had a field-goal attempt blocked and missed two more.

Meanwhile, the Lions slowly cranked up offensive coordinator Mike Martz's frenetic attack, quarterback Jon Kitna throwing to a variety of receivers.

One of them was rookie Calvin Johnson, the second pick after Russell in last spring's draft, and the contrast could not have been clearer after his 16-yard touchdown catch gave Detroit a 17-0 lead in the third quarter.

The sellout crowd of 61,547 was screaming for Culpepper but, just then, McCown and the offense found a rhythm.

A 42-yard bomb to Ronald Curry set up one touchdown and an interception by Oakland's defense, so fierce last season, led to another. After Detroit kicker Jason Hanson made a 46-yard field goal, his second of three for the day, the Raiders drove back downfield, McCown throwing seven yards to fullback Justin Griffith for a 21-20 lead.

"We asked the offense to get us points," cornerback Fabian Washington said. "They got us points."

But with seven minutes remaining, the Raiders faltered. The defense allowed Kitna enough time to find Shaun McDonald for a 32-yard touchdown pass play. Then the offense turned the ball over on consecutive series -- McCown's second interception and a fumble by Zach Miller -- leading to 10 more points for Detroit.

In all, McCown completed a more-than-respectable 30 of 40 passes for 313 yards. Curry led all receivers with 10 catches for 133 yards.

Kitna was 27 for 36 for 289 yards.

"How we handle adversity will be the telling sign for this football team," the Detroit quarterback said. "I think we are beginning to turn the corner."

The same cannot be said for the Raiders. Not yet. When asked about a quarterback controversy, Kiffin stood by McCown, but did so with a qualifier.

"Josh is our starter," he said. "We're going to stay with him for now."

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david.wharton@latimes.com

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