As the regular season comes to a close, the holidays are spent with family and friends, exchanging gifts and eating our body weight in holiday cookies, I can't help but have that empty feeling again of another post season without the Raiders. It's like having a favorite uncle being a 'no-show' at Christmas dinner. On the other hand this year I feel like that uncle is on his way.
Raider fans had high expectations in the upcoming '08 season. It was the year that we were going to shake off old mindsets and become a contender again. It was the year we were going to start our return to dominance. After all, we had the best CB tandem in the league in Asomougha and Hall, we had a strong-armed QB that had head coaches around the league taking notice. We had a monster at defensive tackle in Kelley and signed the No. 1 tackling and Superbowl-winning safety Gibril Wilson.
We were set!!! We were back!!!! The dragon in '08 wore an eye patch!!!!
On Monday night, from the opening kickoff, the Broncos showed the NFL that the Raiders were nowhere near ready. Not even close! What ensued was chaos. The snot-nosed, arrogant, stubborn coach of the Raiders picked a fight with the old, arrogant, stubborn owner of the Raiders. The irresistible object had collided with the immovable force. After a 1-3 start, Mr. irresistible was removed by the immovable Mr. owner.
Enter Tom Cable. A Raider fan from childhood and a friend of Lane Kiffin. Known as a motivator, he was appointed by the Immovable Mr. Davis as in-term coach of a devastated Raider team. His first order of business was to tell the media the things Lane Kiffin had told the media were wrong.
Things like: The receiver's are no good, Russell was not ready, the passing game was no good and the defensive play calling was no good because Al Davis and Rob Ryan were no good. Little things like that.
At that moment Tom Cable and Jamarcus Russell became locked at the hip. What Tom Cable was saying was that, 'From now on, my quarterback is going to learn how to manage the game. I'm taking off the battleship chains.' Saying that he believed in Russell and the rest of the offense was a bold statement considering they had only one first half touchdown.
Was this guy crazy? In the first game it appeared so, a 34-3 whoopin' by the Saints, but Cable remained optimistic. He said he had had taken the boundaries off and let the team play to see where they were. The next week the Jets came to town and the Raiders showed what they were capable of, a tough 16-13 overtime win. Maybe Cable wasn't crazy after all.
The next four weeks showed what Tom Cable had to deal with. The Ravens and Falcons embarrassing losses had us all having Art Shell flashbacks. The Dolphins and Panthers showed a promising defense, but the futility of the offense had doomed Tom Cable and Jamarcus Russell to be failures.
The team was at an all-time low. Deangelo Hall was sent packing, Curry was benched and Walker was awful. The Denver Broncos were next. It was the Raiders destiny to be destroyed once again by a Bronco team that so thoroughly annihilated us on the Monday night opener. It was inevitable.
In the words of Emeril, BAM!!!! The offense showed up! The defense showed up! The special teams showed up! Hope filled our hearts as the Raiders handed the Broncos a complete 31-10 beating. Tom Cable called a great game and Jamarcus Russell lead the offense brilliantly. The futile Chiefs were next and we were going to win two in a row!!!
Wrong! Bad play calling by Cable and Russell looked like a rookie once again. Would the real Raider team please stand up!!!! In the next game against the Chargers, the entire Raider team hit bottom. Tom Cable had lost his players and Russell, battered and bruised, made an early exit.
Hand getures that said, 'I don't care' and laughing and joking by the players during and after the game showed how low the orginization had sunk, a 34-7 loss was almost merciful. Another primetime embarassement. Jamarcus Russell was not a leader and Tom Cable was done as the Raider coach. Or maybe not.....
The next two games the real Raider team finally stood up. What Tom Cable was preaching finally bore fruit. The players played like a well-coached team. The offense looked at Russell like a general on the field of battle. Chad Schillens and Jonny Lee Higgins had become dangerous targets. Micheal Bush, and Darren McFadden became feared. The defense proved to bend but not break, while the offense would control the tempo.
A 27-16 win over the red-hot Texans showed that Cable had finally conviced this team of their potential. The light switched on and the team became angry. They became angry because for the first time thay had seen what they were capable of. They became angry at themselves. They took it out on Tampa Bay. The offense rallied around Jamarcus Russell and overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Tampa Bay 31-24, knocking them out of the playoffs. Out of the ashes the Pheonix had risen.
At the end of the season, they had finally become Tom Cable's team. Like the prodigal son who returned, the Raiders finally understand. They finally understand Tom Cable was the tow truck pulling them from the muck. They finally understood that Jamarcus Russell was a quarterback who could win games.
The disfunctional label that they so desperately wanted to shed had been lifted for two games. They had earned respect going into the off season. The Jets, Broncos and Bucs all fell one game short of the playoffs. The spoiler label is little consolation for missing the playoffs, but at least it's something to build on.
Tom Cable has made his arguement to be the head coach in '09 and it has been a convincing one to the players. Tom Cable and Jamarcus Russell have formed a bond that many great coach/quarteback combinations have formed in the past. If Cable returns in '09 the Raider fans could be looking at the next John Madden/Mad Bomber era.
I know that is a bold statement, but the formula is there. Somewhere in this tumultuous season stability has finally come to the Raiders, something that hasn't been there since the '02 season. If Al Davis decides to replace Tom Cable, he can leave with his head held high. He has earned his respect in the league and he will be a head coach, whether it's this year or years to come. He has proven himself a winner.