Raiders coach Lane Kiffin motioned for every player and coach to join the ever-growing lovefest on the field. Players jumped up and down as McCown yelled something inaudible in the middle of the pulsating throng.
The Raiders led 21-20. They were about to put the game in the hands of their highly regarded defense. The lingering memories of last season's face-plant seemed so distant. Seven plays later, the Detroit Lions reclaimed the lead en route to a 36-21 victory in both teams' regular-season opener.
"We want the game in our hands, and it was at the end," Raiders free safety Stuart Schweigert said. "We just didn't stop them. That's disappointing."
In truth, the Raiders didn't stop the Lions' wide-open offense much the entire game. Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna completed 75 percent of his 36 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns, running back Tatum Bell amassed 87 yards on only 15 carries, and the Lions cobbled together seven scoring drives.
"With that amount of points, we should be able to win football games," middle linebacker Kirk Morrison said of Oakland's 21. "We felt like we (had) them right where we wanted them. We just didn't finish.
The deflating effort put a damper on Kiffin's NFL coaching debut and overshadowed a somewhat inspiring performance from an offense that scored only 12 offensive touchdowns in 16 games last season.
The Raiders scored 21 points in an 8-minute, 21-second span that consisted of 18 plays for 159 yards, two McCown passes for touchdown and a LaMont Jordan 12-yard TD run.
In the end, Jordan said, it's nothing more than another loss.
"It's pretty much the same story when we lose," he said. "It hasn't changed. The bottom line is, you got to win football games."
Kitna said he and his teammates expected some tense moments in the second half. A locker room confab put them in the proper mind-set.
"We said, 'If adversity comes, we have to handle it and bounce back because that is the thing that has killed us in the past,'" Kitna said. "That's what happened last year. I said it during the offseason, 'How we handle adversity will be the telling sign for this football team.' We are beginning to turn the corner."
Jordan said the Raiders are "going to be sick" when they watch video tape of the game today. The tape will show three missed field goal attempts by Sebastian Janikowski -- Detroit's Jason Hanson converted all three of his field goal attempts -- McCown throwing two passes that were intercepted and parlayed into 10 points, and the Lions marching up and down the field with impunity, for the most part.
Lost in the mix will be wide receiver Ronald Curry's 10 catches for 133 yards and one touchdown, Jordan's 159 yards rushing and receiving, McCown completing 75 percent of his 40 passes for 313 yards, interceptions by Morrison and Stanford Routt and a solid performance by the offensive line.
"It was right there," Kiffin said. "We popped back, took the lead. We just didn't finish"
Yet, this loss felt different than the 14 the Raiders endured last season, many players said. Contributions came on offense and defense.
The Lions weren't able to run and hide from the Raiders once they built a 17-point lead midway through the third quarter, as many teams did last season.
The players are confident in one another these days. Kiffin has his troops believing they are on the cusp of turning around the franchise's four-year slumber. No one is wondering how the Raiders are going to lose their next game.
"We got high hopes for this team," Curry said.
And the Raiders had high hopes of pulling out an improbable victory once McCown and fullback Justin Griffith connected for a 7-yard touchdown with 7:43 left in the game. The Raiders still felt confident when they trailed 26-21 but had the ball with 4:06 remaining.
Two plays later, McCown's sideline pass for receiver Mike Williams landed in defensive end Dewayne White's hands. Then, one play after the Lions increased the lead to 29-21, McCown fumbled, Raiders tight end Zach Miller recovered but fumbled it back to the Lions. End of comeback.
"We have a new belief in ourselves," Lions receiver Roy Williams said. "If the old Detroit Lions were down 21-20, we would go in the tank and lose the game 28-20. Not anymore."
Jordan said, winning in the NFL is "about teams that do the right things on a consistent basis and minimize their mistakes." The Raiders didn't do that, he added.
There isn't much time to ponder this loss. Next up is a road game against the Denver Broncos. At some point, Jordan said, the Raiders need to make the quantum leap from an improved team to one that finds ways to win, much like what Williams talked about.
"We're looking better," Jordan said. "You always want to look better than you did last year because we looked awful last year. Taking the next step is becoming a winning team, and we, obviously, didn't do that."
Contact Steve Corkran at firstname.lastname@example.org.