It’s the toughest day in any sport, the one after a season ends with a defeat. There’s satisfaction, of course, of what was accomplished — and for the Raiders that was considerable — and anticipation, of possibilities in the future. There also is regret.
So it was at Raiders Central in Alameda on Sunday. Outside, the rain fell — as if nature had to add to the gloom. Inside, the locker area, the media room, at different times a head coach and some of his players offered words both from the heart and head.
No alibis, no excuses, because that isn’t the way of true professionals, but as from fans, Raider Nation if you will, comments as much about what might have been — or more accurately what they wished had been.
“Still a little raw,” said Jack Del Rio, the head man. “We’ll definitely be able to look back and be proud of what we accomplished.”
Which was going from a 7-9 record in 2015 to 12-4 in 2016. Which was reaching the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
“Then let that sting that you feel from having it end the way it did be a reminder of how hard you need to push, how much work is in front of, and let that fuel the type of offseason we need to have.”
Maybe it would have been different if Oakland had first-team quarterback Derek Carr — or even its second-team QB, Matt McGloin, who as a free agent said he’s looking for a place where he can start — or if Oakland had first-team left tackle Donald Penn.
But the Raiders didn’t and Saturday, they were beaten by Houston, 27-14, in an AFC Wild Card game. Championship teams overcome the adversity. Oakland isn’t there yet. Will it ever be?
“Part of our responsibility is to build the right way and build it so it can last,” said Del Rio. “Nobody wants to take one swing and hope you have a magical year one time.”
This seemed like a magical year until Carr incurred a broken leg two weeks ago. On Sunday, he made his first public appearance since the injury, saying had the Raiders made the Super Bowl, he would have been ready. A lot of false hope, since they weren’t going to make it without him.
Carr watched the Houston loss on his home TV. “It wasn’t like a helpless feeling,” he explained. “It was more sad. I just feel for my brothers. … It’s crazy. I haven’t missed a game in my life. Freak things happen. It’s just been weird watching my team play and not being able to help in any way.”
The quarterback, making his first start, was rookie Conner Cook. “He won’t ever be in a tougher situation than he was then,” said Carr of Cook. “In the playoffs, against the No. 1 defense, on paper, in football. I told him that. Said he made some great throws.”
And some less than great, under pressure, unfamiliar with the Houston defense. Cook survived, if the Raiders didn’t.
Carr said he’ll be back for mini-camp in April. He took a shot at those, some legitimate medical people apparently, who prophesized on his return. “They don’t have a clue what’s going on,” said Carr.
The rest of us have a clue into the Raiders. They’ve emerged from the wilderness.
“We had a good year,” reminded Del Rio. “Then we had an abrupt ending … I’m not happy about it. We should expect more, and I’m going to demand more.”
Raider fans are allowed a smile through the tears.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.