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With McCown still ailing, Culpepper gets start for first-place Raiders

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- All the secrecy about which quarterback would start for the Oakland Raiders was put to rest this week.

With Josh McCown still limping around in a walking boot and Daunte Culpepper coming off a five-touchdown performance, coach Lane Kiffin saw no reason to keep secret his decision about the starting quarterback.

That's a big change from previous weeks. Kiffin refused to divulge McCown would start the season opener against Detroit, then listed McCown as doubtful the following week in Denver with a foot injury but started him anyway.

Heading into the next week against Cleveland, the questions were about how long McCown would keep the job after struggling the previous week against the Broncos. Culpepper finished the game against the Browns after McCown left at halftime with a broken toe, but Kiffin waited until the Friday before the Miami game before declaring Culpepper the starter.

This week, he announced that Culpepper would start Sunday's game for Oakland (2-2) against the San Diego Chargers before the first question of the week was even asked.

"I won't prepare any differently," Culpepper said. "I prepare the same no matter what. It's no different to me."

Culpepper wasn't asked to do much in his first start, going 5-for-12 for 75 yards, but he threw for two touchdowns and ran for three more, showing that his surgically repaired knee is feeling much better after hindering him so much the past two seasons.

In his last full season for Minnesota in 2004, Culpepper averaged more than 34 attempts a game. Now he said he's content to hand the ball off, if Oakland's top-ranked running game continues to have so much success.

"I expect to do whatever it takes to get a win," he said. "Whatever it takes to get a win. I'm pretty sure if you talk to every other guy in this locker room they'd say the same thing. It doesn't matter."

Culpepper's two touchdown throws went to Jerry Porter, who has had four of his seven catches after Culpepper took over the quarterbacking duties.

"He's coming along," Porter said. "Naturally, the two guys have been there months before and had a bit of a leg up on him. ... He can play. He's getting a chance to get out there."

How long that chance will last is still up in the air. Kiffin has not said what he plans to do once McCown gets healthy. McCown played through a sprained right foot and cracked bone in his finger, but will miss his second straight game with the broken left toe.

"Every week it looks like he might be coming back and then he struggles," Kiffin said. "We're just going to take it day to day."

There still are questions at running back, where LaMont Jordan has not practiced since leaving the Miami game late in the first half with a sore back. Justin Fargas ran for 172 of his career-high 179 yards in the second half against the Dolphins.

Also, Dominic Rhodes is back from his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess is back practicing after missing two games with a sore calf and special teams standout Isaiah Ekejiuba is back for the first time since injuring his foot in the final exhibition game in Seattle.

When the Raiders take the field Sunday in San Diego, they will be in an unusual place. For the first time since winning the AFC West in 2002 on the way to the Super Bowl, Oakland is alone in first in the division.

The Raiders got there while watching the rest of the league play Sunday. They are 2-2, a half-game ahead of the other three divisional teams.

"If we're in first place at the end of this thing, then it's good. Right now it's not," Porter said. "When you start reading the papers, next thing you know, somebody is going to pass you up. It's fine to be percentage points ahead of somebody, but all of us have two wins. It's early in the year."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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