THE RAIDERS DIDN'T lose their season opener in customary blowout fashion on "Monday Night Football."

But they still lost, and agony had returned to a Raiders sideline by night's end, replacing what had been a long-lost feeling of ecstasy that swarmed the sold-out Coliseum most of the evening.

The Raiders are 0-1, just as they've been every year after that 2002 season which ended with an AFC championship.

Then again, these Raiders looked vastly different from the past six seasons (and NFL-worst 72 losses). These Raiders had spunk, up until the San Diego Chargers' final drive, which Darren Sproles capped with a 5-yard touchdown run with 18 seconds remaining.

About two minutes earlier, the Raiders and their crowd were loving life. JaMarcus Russell had just thrown a 57-yard touchdown pass (on fourth-and-14, incredulously) to rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy — a fourth-round pick, not to be confused with fellow starter and first-round selection Darrius Heyward-Bey.

But Raider Nation likely will be talking about the Murphy touchdown that the officials nullified, the one that got away via a questionable replay review in the final minute of the first half.

"Honestly, I caught the ball, and when I fell down, the hand that I had the ball in is what I used to push myself up because I thought I scored," Murphy said. "I was trying to come up and celebrate because I was so excited."


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It sure looked like a touchdown, a 14-7 lead and a hoppin' house party at the Coliseum. It came away looking like the officials are out to hose the Raiders again, perhaps in honor of it being throwback-jersey night and all.

At halftime, ESPN's Steve Young and Raiders megaphone Greg Papa hounded an in-house officiating supervisor for an explanation. Beat writers demanded an answer, too, from referee Carl Cheffers, a name Raider Nation must think is an alias for Walt "Tuck Rule" Coleman.

"I'm disappointed. (Murphy) came down with both feet, his rear end hit the ground and the ball came out," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "(Cheffers) said he has to come down on the ground with possession of the ball. I don't believe that's the rule, but we'll see."

The replay review led Cheffers to rule that Murphy "lost possession as he went to the ground" on the incompletion. Murphy looked to have two feet down and it seemed like a catch. But twisted rules can also make Tom Brady fumbles look like incompletions.

Touchdown or not, this is all you needed to know: The Raiders are alive again. One play might make a difference between a win or loss this season. Honest.

Sure, the Raiders suffered their 12th straight loss to the Chargers. But it wasn't a repeat of the 2006 opener on a Monday night here against the Chargers, who won that game 27-0.

These Raiders can score. They can run with power, thanks to Michael Bush, Darren McFadden and a bevy of blockers. They even can get Russell to throw a mean lead block on a reverse, or be a short-yardage back, or renew his chemistry with tight end Zach Miller on passes down the hash marks.

That offensive growth was expected and demanded. The Raiders have invested so many top draft picks on that side of the ball that youth dominates the skill positions.

More stunning was the Raiders defense. There is one. Finally.

Defensively, the Raiders looked downright handsome (up until the final drive) and credit that to the additions of veteran defensive linemen Greg Ellis and Richard Seymour. Ellis forced a red-zone turnover on the Chargers' second possession, and Seymour had two sacks, his first coming only six snaps into his post-trade tenure.

"I'm encouraged by the signs I see," Seymour said. "Guys are fighting hard and playing tough. That's what it takes to win in this league."

Don't come away thinking the Raiders are a flawless operation, and the past nine months should have clued you in on that. OK, the past six seasons and 72 losses, as well.

"I didn't know what to expect," Seymour said. "But talking with the guys, I felt how excited they were. That's what it'll take, to keep up that same sense of urgency."

They've got 15 more games, and suddenly that seems like a good thing instead of a prison sentence.

Al Davis vowed two nights earlier that "we've got a chance" this season. Indeed they do.

Contact Cam Inman at cinman@bayareanewsgroup.com.