The Raiders bill themselves as The Team of the Decades but since they got to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, this has been a lost decade. They got blown out in the Super Bowl and since have gone 17-55, worst in the NFL.
Even more telling, teams that have had comparable season records have rebounded. The Raiders, San Diego Chargers and New York Giants were all 4-12 in 2003, but the Chargers went 14-2 last season and the Giants are 6-2 this season. In 2004, the Raiders and Chicago Bears were both 5-11; last year, the Bears were in the Super Bowl.
In 2005, the Raiders were 4-12 and the New Orleans Saints were 3-13, but the Saints were one of the top teams in the NFC last season and are headed that way this season after a shaky start. In 2006, the Raiders were 2-14 and the Detroit Lions were just slightly better at 3-13; this year, the Raiders are 2-6 and headed for a season in which they’ll win no more than four games, while the Lions are 6-2.
The NFL has become known as a league in which teams can go from worst to first.
Except for the Raiders.
The Raiders have had four coaches since Jon Gruden left, from Bill Callahan to Lane Kiffin. None have succeeded. Since Rich Gannon went down early in the 2003 season, they’ve gone through quarterbacks like tissue paper: Kerry Collins, Marques Tuiasosopo, Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter, Josh McCown, Daunte Culpepper. None have been successful.
So, who’s to blame? We all know the answer to that. There’s one man who sets the tone for the organization and has the final word on everything. But you can’t fire the owner.
Once, the Raiders were known as a viciously hard-hitting defensive team with an offense that was particularly effective in clutch situations.
Not this team. When the game was on the line Sunday, the Raiders gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive to the Houston Texans. They can’t stop the run. The Texans were averaging only 80 yards a game rushing, but Ron Dayne got 122 by himself.
The Raiders’ offensive line was supposed to be better this season with changes in personnel and a new system of blocking. But you know the old saying: You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken ...
The Raiders have no identity. they’ve gone back and forth with offensive schemes, from Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense to a deep-pass offense with Norv Turner and Art Shell, and now back to a Gruden-type offense with Kiffin.
There is no overall plan to develop a certain kind of team. For years, Al Davis has just gone after glamorous free agents, but that’s only occasionally worked. They have two high-priced free-agent running backs, LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes, sitting on the bench behind Justin Fargas, a third-round draft pick in 2003.
This year, the Raiders opted out of the free-agent market and Davis gave Kiffin the freedom to shake up the coaching staff. There’s obviously still a lot of work to do and it can be done only if Davis gives Kiffin time and freedom to build the kind of team he needs.
If Davis can’t do that, the greatness of the Raiders will continue to be in the rearview mirror.