Missing high, low and everywhere in-between, the overall No. 1 draft choice of 2007 completed only 7 of 24 passes for 109 yards. But Russell came into focus when he had to, engineering a 69-yard scoring march in the final 2 minutes for a wildly improbable 13-10 victory over mistake-prone Kansas City.
The Chiefs outgained the Raiders (1-1) 409-166, while Russell became just the second quarterback since the start of the 1997 season to try 20 or more passes and complete less than 30 percent of them but still win.
And it's the first time in the Raiders' 50-year history they've emerged with a victory after giving up more than 400 yards and gaining fewer than 200 themselves.
"I felt really good. The ball was just coming out different for me," Russell said. "Other than that, I felt good."
Russell's teammates knew it was a fight from start to finish.
"From the first quarter all the way to the fourth quarter it was a struggle for us, until the last 2 or 3 minutes left in the game," said Darren McFadden, whose 5-yard touchdown run around left end with 1:07 left made the difference.
"It's probably one of the strangest wins. But a win is a win."
Cassel, making his long-awaited Kansas City debut after being out a month with a knee injury, had given the Chiefs (0-2) the lead with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Dwayne Bowe with 2:38 to go. Cassel wound up throwing for 241 yards.
Oakland's victory may not have seemed so improbable to coach Todd Haley.
"When you have nine penalties, two turnovers and a couple other lapses, you're not going to win most of the time," he said. "We didn't get the result we wanted. We're going to have a smart team here. Nine penalties and a couple of those things don't reflect a smart team. We're going to get back to work because we're going to have a smart team here."
But Tom Cable agreed it was about as strange as they come.
"It's as poor as I think you can play offensively and still find a way at the end there to win a football game," said the Oakland coach.
While Cassel clearly outplayed his Oakland counterpart, he did make one mistake that Russell did not. Russell avoided interceptions while two of Cassel's passes wound up in the arms of Oakland defensive back Michael Huff.
"We had things that happened throughout the day that we hurt ourselves with, whether it was offense or defense or special teams," Cassel said. "The Raiders did a good job and made the plays when it counted. Therefore, they're going home with the victory."
Cassel, who missed the opener with a left knee injury, hit a key third-down pass in the nine-play, 72-yard drive that gave the Chiefs their only lead of the second half.
The Chiefs crowded the line of scrimmage and dared Russell to beat them with his arm, and until the final drive Russell seemed bent on making the strategy work. At the end of the third, he had 35 yards passing and the Raiders had only 77 yards of offense to 313 for the Chiefs.
But a host of Chiefs mistakes, including nine penalties for 70 yards and atrocious clock management -- and Sebastian Janikowski's two field goals -- provided a 6-3 Oakland lead.
Also key to Oakland's winning drive was a roughing call on Wallace Gilberry, who fell onto Russell while he was on the ground.
"When we had the personal foul penalty we kind of were in a position to put them in a bit of a difficult position, and we let them off the hook," Haley said. "They made plays at the end."
Brandon Flowers, the Chiefs' No. 1 cornerback, returned after being out almost a month with a shoulder injury. But he was also guilty of one of the many mistakes by Kansas City when late in the first half he let an interception sail right through his hands.
With nothing but open field in front of him, Flowers would probably have waltzed into the end zone.
"Every loss hurts. This loss kills you," he said.