Shortly before the 2009 NFL regular season, many Oakland Raiders fans, including myself, shared a sense of optimism about the team's future. The Raiders closed out the 2008-09 regular season on a high note and seemed to be poised for a decent 2009 season.
Well, with the regular season now over and the playoffs in full-swing, Raiders fans are left scratching their heads as they look desperately for answers to a NFL mystery.
Since the Raiders' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Superbowl XXXVII, they've managed to win only 29 games and have suffered 83 losses during the course of the past seven seasons.
In 2009, the Raiders managed to win five games, matching last season's total, but were outscored by opponents, 197-379, in a mostly disappointing season that was surrounded by controversy.
The dysfunctional silver-and-black renegade never quite found a leader over the course of the season—even though most thought JaMarcus Russell would lead the Raiders in the right direction.
But Russell's raw talent and potential couldn't outweigh his unpreparedness and lack of discipline. Russell's ineffectiveness prompted head coach, Tom Cable, who was surrounded by controversy of his own, to bench him.
Russell eventually lost his job to Bruce Gradkowski, who was decent in the games he started. Gradkowski finished the year completing 82 passes of his 150 attempts (54.7%) with 1,007 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INT and a QB Rating of 80.6.
JaMarcus Russell, who was paid handsomely by Al Davis before even trying on a pair of NFL shoulder pads, finished with 120 completions out of 246 attempts (48.8%) with 1,287 yards, 3 TDs, 11 INT and a QB Rating of 50.0.
And as ugly as the Raiders were on offense, they did not go without having some bright spots on the field.
Tight end Zach Miller led the team with 805 yards receiving and finished the year with 3 TDs. Also a nice surprise was Louis Murphy, who finished with 34 receptions, 521 yards receiving and a team leading 4 TDs. Honorable mentions include Chaz Schilens (365 yards, 2 TDs), Johnnie Lee Higgins (263 yards) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (124 yards, 1 TD).
In the backfield for the Raiders were Michael Bush, Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden. I was sure that McFadden would have a breakout season, but he just couldn't get any rhythm going over the course of his second season. Bush finished the year with a team leading 589 rushing yards to go along with three rushing scores. Fargas followed suit with 491 yards and three scores of his own. And finally, McFadden, finished his sophomore season with 357 yards one score and four fumbles.
On the defensive side for the Raiders, they struggled for most of the season and as a result ended up giving up 379 points. But as was the case with the offense, there were a few bright spots that made the defense somewhat watchable.
LB Kirk Morrison led the Raiders with 133 total tackles, and Tyvon Branch followed suit with 124 tackles of his own. Richard Seymour finished with 47 tackles and 4 sacks while Trevor Scott led the team with 7 sacks. Safety Michael Huff recorded 3 INTs and 43 tackles while CB Nnamdi Asomugha rounded out the defense with 34 tackles of his own to go along with 1 INT.
The Oakland Raiders were once "Committed to Excellence" and used to "Just Win Baby", and though these old adages still cover the walls of the coliseum, their meanings are becoming more and more irrelevant.
And although the past seven seasons have been mostly painful to watch, Raiders fans can still find some "bright" spots in a mostly disappointing organization.
Will the Raiders somehow magically bounce back next season with an 11-5 record? No. But the hope is that they'll make progress.
Al Davis and the rest of the organization should look at the bright spots and build upon them. Restoring that sense of commitment, dedication, and heart is the most important thing for this organization. Leadership is needed, and without it, these "bright" spots will begin to fade away, much like the once proud Raider Nation.