We Can Build on This: Oakland Raiders 2008 Review

If 2008 taught us anything, the lesson is that there is always next year. The Miami Dolphins finished 2007 at 1-15. They are the 2008 AFC East Champions. And the Baltimore Ravens (from 5-11 to 11-5) and Atlanta Falcons (from 4-12 to 11-5) earned playoff berths with rookie quarterbacks and first-year coaches.

Why not the Raiders in 2009?

After struggling through another ugly season and setting an NFL mark for futility by becoming the first team in league history to lose 11 or more games in five straight seasons, the Raiders ended the season on an upswing.

They finished with wins against Houston and Tampa Bay. The victory over Houston was the Texans’ only loss in their final six games of the year. And the win over Tampa Bay prevented the Buccaneers and coach Jon Gruden from making the playoffs.

Jamarcus Russell finally showed signs that he could make it as an NFL quarterback. And the Raiders’ offense finally showed some life, getting big plays from young players like running back Michael Bush and wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins.

Of course, two games doesn’t tell the whole story. The Raiders can’t overlook the fact that this was a team that also lost seven games by 19 points or more. They were thoroughly dominated in nearly half their games, and they won only five.

But the Raiders need positive news. In a season that will be remembered for the feud between coach and owner and eventual firing of Lane Kiffin, the Raiders have to build on the good things they have going for them.

They need to lock up Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to a long-term deal. They need to draft well, finding players who can contribute, starting with the number seven pick overall.

But first things first. They need to make a decision about their head coach. The good news is interim coach Tom Cable won four games after taking over at the helm this year, which is as much as they won all of last year. The problem is he still went just 4-8. Cable says he thinks the Raiders can be a playoff team next season, and Russell has gone on the record saying he wants Cable retained on a permanent basis. Will Al Davis feel the same way?

I’m split here. The idea of bringing in a veteran coach like Jim Fassel or Dennis Green seems like it might bring some stability to a position that has been in flux almost annually since the departure of Jon Gruden at the beginning of this decade. But perhaps Cable could follow in the footsteps of Tony Sparano (Dolphins), Mike Smith (Falcons) and John Harbaugh (Ravens) and enjoy success despite being a new head coach.

If Davis retains Cable, I’m OK with that. But if he fires Cable for a proven commodity, I’m OK with that, too. Either way, the key is commitment. Davis has to give this coach a chance, meaning at least three or four years to make a difference and get the Raiders back on track. No exceptions. Al, Mr. Davis, do your team, your fans, and your legacy as an NFL owner a favor. Make this decision and step back. Let the coaches coach and the players play. That shouldn’t be so hard. It wouldn’t hurt to find a general manager, either. (I heard Bill Parcells might even be available.)

Will the Raiders be a playoff team next year? Who knows. But this year proves that anything is possible. And even if the Raiders reach .500, that would still be progress. If this Raiders team plays like it did in Week 16 and 17, an 8-8 finish is definitely a realistic goal, especially in a division that was won by the 8-8 Chargers this year.

The offseason starts today in Oakland. Hopefully Jamarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and the rest of this young Raiders team makes the most of it and comes back hungry to change the culture of a franchise in 2009. It won’t be easy, but thanks to some upstarts this year, it’s clearly possible to bounce back from the NFL’s basement. The Raiders have been there long enough. Only five teams have longer playoff droughts than Oakland. If the Team of the Decades doesn’t do it in 2009, this decade will be a forgettable one for Raiders fans.

For more information, visit MattHubert.com.

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