Click photo to enlarge
Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell (8) is tackled by Cleveland Browns Scott Fujita (99) and Chris Gocong (51) in the second quarter of their NFL game at O.co Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. Sunday Oct. 16, 2011. Campbell would leave the field after being injured on the play. (Anda Chu/Staff)

From the first day of training camp, rookie head coach Hue Jackson has been vocal about his faith in these Raiders and, moreover, the heights the team could reach.

"We're going to create something that's great," Jackson said in July. "I'm not interested in being good. I'm interested in being great."

It was bold and brash talk, particularly for a first-time head coach taking over a team without a winning record since 2002.

In getting off to a 4-2 start for the first time since that '02 Super Bowl season, the Raiders are playing at a level approaching Jackson's rhetoric. With select veterans eagerly taking leadership roles and a friskier, more resilient roster, this has been a different group of Raiders from those we've seen in recent years.

But Jason Campbell's surgery, forcing the quarterback to miss at least six weeks, hands Jackson his first crisis. And it's gigantic. The coach, his team and observers around the league are about to discover the breadth of his powers.

He's trying to win with a backup quarterback, Kyle Boller in this instance.

"I know that we can put an offense around Kyle Boller and continue to win," Jackson said Monday.

That's Hue, so irrepressibly optimistic he believes he'll find sunshine in a closet.

Taking the field with a backup quarterback, however, is one challenge no coach ever seeks, especially if he has clear confidence in his starter, as Jackson had in Campbell. Except for rare occasions, NFL history is unkind to teams forced to rely on a backup quarterback.

You might be able to get away with it for a while, if you have a veteran roster, an established system and a track record of success. That was the case with New England in 2008, when Tom Brady went down in the opener and was replaced by Matt Cassel. The Patriots won 11 games but missed the playoffs.

You might pull it off if there was tight competition between quarterbacks No. 1 and No. 2, as was the case when Michael Vick replaced Kevin Kolb last year in Philadelphia. The Eagles won the NFC East before losing in the wild-card round.

Mostly, though, everything we know about this league says turning to the backup QB alters the trajectory of the season. It tends to go south.

Consider Indianapolis. With future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning out, the Colts first pulled Kerry Collins out of retirement and then turned to Curtis Painter. They're 0-6.

Though the gap between Campbell and Boller is not nearly as vast as that between Manning and anyone else Indy might have turned to, it clearly is perceived by the Oakland coaching staff to be greater than that which existed between Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski last season. One thing stressed from the outset of camp was that Jason was the unquestioned starter, Kyle the uncertain backup.

"Right now he's our starting quarterback," Jackson said of Boller. "And I feel good about Kyle, that's why he's here. I know Kyle. I know what Kyle is and what he's capable of doing.

"But, again, we're chasing a championship here. That's the commitment I've made to the organization, then I have to make sure that we're putting championship players out there."

When Campbell went down with a broken clavicle during Sunday's 24-17 win over Cleveland, Boller was beckoned and did a credible job. His numbers were ordinary (8 of 14, for 100 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions), but he achieved the only result that matters on the Al Davis scale of quarterback measurement. He won.

To be more specific, Boller entered with a 14-7 lead and never lost it. He was, however, facing the Browns, who are seven or eight steps into the marathon journey required for them to join any serious discussion regarding the playoffs.

Winning the AFC West, much less a Super Bowl championship, with a backup quarterback is a massive undertaking. The game has changed, even from where it was a decade ago. The emphasis on passing makes it almost impossible for a defensive oriented team to win it all behind a "game manager" such as Baltimore did with Trent Dilfer in the 2000 season and Tampa Bay did with Brad Johnson two years later.

The last eight Super Bowls have been won by Aaron Rodgers (one), Drew Brees (one), Ben Roethlisberger (two), Eli Manning (one), Peyton Manning (one) and Tom Brady (two). Only Eli, who still is better than average, can't run with the others.

And the Raiders are trying to win with Boller -- or someone else currently unemployed.

It's a tough gig. So tough that if Jackson can get the Raiders through this, somehow get them into the postseason, he'll end any debate regarding the Coach of the Year.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.