KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The day may come when Darren McFadden and Michael Bush join the list of those victimized by recent Raiders culture, seeking an escape and rejoicing when it comes.
On Sunday, though, Oakland benefited from their relative purity and innocence.
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Amid team power struggles and ceaseless speculation regarding the coaching staff, the rookie running backs entered Arrowhead Stadium with clear minds and light feet, racing through holes created by the offensive line and playing essential roles in a 23-8 win over Kansas City.
McFadden and Bush combined for 254 of Oakland's 300 rushing yards, bringing temporary sanity and, moreover, a glimpse of the possibilities — if the runners can avoid being dragged down by constant losing and the accompanying counter-productive madness.
Though the Chiefs have never looked more pathetic — their youth movement is in the unwatchable stage — the Raiders are in no position to dismiss even the most low-rent victory. Not after being routed in their opener, losing 26 of their past 34 games and 62 of their past 82.
McFadden and Bush, however, weren't on the field when Oakland was shredding coaches, donating games and becoming the league's worst team.
McFadden is a true rookie, drafted in April; Bush was drafted a year earlier but spent 2007 recovering and rehabilitating after breaking his leg at Louisville.
All each has as a Raider is one brutal loss (to Denver last week) and one cathartic win.
"I just stay focused on what I have to do," Bush said. "All the talk is on the outside. I think Coach Kiffin is a good coach; I think the whole staff has been great." Bush clinched the game in the final minute, blasting off left tackle and going 32 yards for a touchdown. The score provided redemption for the 6-foot-1, 245-pound back, who had lost a fumble on the first play of Oakland's previous possession.
"I felt like the whole world had come down on me," he said. "Coach was good about it, telling us we all need to have short-term memory. But when I scored, it felt like all the weight was lifted off me." Summoned in the second half, Bush finished with 90 yards, on 16 carries. He ran as if out to prove he could, to show that his leg is healed and he can be a featured back in the NFL.
"With the injury, I've missed the game." Bush said. "Then last week, I didn't get any carries. I just wanted to show the coaches that I was ready." McFadden, by contrast, ran as if that's what he does. He dashed into the line and darted around the edges. After slamming away for only 21 yards (nine carries) in the first half, Kiffin and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp made a point to get McFadden more carries outside the tackles in the second half.
The result: 12 carries, for 143 yards — including a 50-yard gallop off left tackle that set up his 19-yard touchdown around right end. For McFadden, it was mostly a matter of slowing down, reading the effect of his blockers, then using his speed. He was everything he was advertised upon leaving Arkansas and becoming the first running back taken in the draft.
"I'm very proud of what we did up front and the way (running backs coach) Tom Rathman got those rookie running backs going," Kiffin said.
What we saw was two young bucks ballin' as if they didn't care about what happened before they showed up. They didn't see arrogance get Bill Callahan fired. They missed the booing of Kerry Collins at McAfee Coliseum, the spat between Art Shell and Mike Lombardi.
McFadden and Bush likely don't realize the Raiders have only one starting position player, wideout Ronald Curry, to show for their five drafts from 1998-2002.
And both running backs were in college when the Raiders culture sucked the desire out of Randy Moss.
McFadden and Bush played like kids without burden. As if they don't know the recent history. For one day, that was enough to make a difference.