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If he’s named the Raiders starter this week, he’ll try to keep his former team—and new coach Cam Cameron—winless as Oakland visits the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Culpepper, who spent a forgettable year with Miami last season, stepped in for the injured Josh McCown and led the Raiders to a 26-24 win over Cleveland last week, handing the 32-year-old Kiffin his first coaching victory.
With McCown hobbled by a sore toe, the Raiders (1-2) have four quarterbacks on the roster this week, including Andrew Walter and No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell, who was added to the active list this week.
The starter remains in doubt, though it figures to be Culpepper if McCown can’t go. Culpepper, signed by Oakland after the Dolphins released him in July, went 8-for-14 for 118 yards in relief last week.
“If Daunte is the starter he will get better because he’ll have a full week of reps,” Kiffin said.
Culpepper was slowed by a knee injury with Miami last season and ended up playing just four games.
“To me, they’re just another team,” said Culpepper, who had a 77.0 passer rating with the Dolphins. “They’re just the next name on the schedule.
“I feel very comfortable in this offense right now,” Culpepper said of the Raiders. “The more I do it, the more comfortable I am in it. Being here every day, not having to play gave me an opportunity to absorb it a little more. I feel like I’m ready whenever I’m called on.”
No matter the quarterback, the Raiders can rely on LaMont Jordan, who leads the AFC with 471 yards from scrimmage. Jordan, who had only 508 total yards last season, had 121 yards rushing in the win over the Browns. His performance helped the Raiders snap an 11-game losing streak dating to last season, but the victory only came because of quick thinking by Kiffin.
Kiffin called timeout just before Cleveland’s Phil Dawson attempted a game-winning field goal, stealing a page from Denver’s Mike Shanahan, who employed a similar tactic in the Broncos’ 23-20 overtime win over the Raiders in Week 2.
Dawson nailed the field goal that didn’t count, but had his second attempt blocked, preserving Oakland’s victory.
“Oh yeah, I learned from Mike,” Kiffin said. “Thanks, Mike.”
Oakland hopes to avoid being in a similar position against the reeling Dolphins. Although they played well in a 31-28 loss to the Jets last Sunday, the Dolphins are off to an 0-3 start for just the second time since 1969.
Cameron, who spent last season running San Diego’s high-powered offense, is off to the worst start by a first-year Miami coach since George Wilson dropped his opening five games with the AFL expansion team in 1966.
“I think it’s clear we have areas we’re improving in,” Cameron said. “We’ll have to find a way to learn and grow.”
For most of the decade, the offense has been Miami’s problem. But this season, it’s been the defense causing headaches. After ranking fourth in total defense last year, the Dolphins are struggling to generate a pass rush or make a critical stop. The Jets went 8-for-13 on third-down conversions last week and Miami had only one sack.
Middle linebacker Zach Thomas sat out the game with a concussion and his status for Sunday is uncertain.
“We’ve got a classic case of our strength becoming our weakness,” Cameron said. “What I mean is we have guys who are trying to do too much. It can lead to mistakes and things that crop up at inopportune times.”
The Dolphins offense is actually showing signs of life under Cameron. Miami is averaging more than 20 points for the first time since 2002, and Ronnie Brown had one of his best games as a pro against the Jets, with 112 rushing yards, 99 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
“Individual performances like that are good, but it doesn’t mean too much until we start getting victories,” Brown said. “We still have a long way to go as a team.”
Miami has history on its side against the Raiders. The Dolphins have won six straight in the series and haven’t lost at home to Oakland since 1990, when the Raiders were based in Los Angeles and had Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen carrying the football.
“All we’re going to do is play Dolphins football,” Miami defensive back Travis Daniels said. “For the last couple of weeks we haven’t been giving that to you all. We’re going to be clicking on all cylinders from now on. Everybody around here believes that. We’re motivated. I wish we could play right now.”
Miami won 33-21 in the teams’ last meeting in 2005.