ALAMEDA, Calif. -- A year ago, the Oakland Raiders looked promising in starting out 3-4 under a rookie head coach in Dennis Allen. Then the bottom fell out, courtesy of a six-game losing streak that contributed to a final record of 4-12.
This year, the Raiders were 3-4 again, staring at a stretch of winnable games and becoming more relevant. But after dropping four of five while showing a shocking inability to close out games, the Raiders are 4-8 with four games remaining against opponents who have a combined record of 29-19 in the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.
In 2012, Raiders owner Mark Davis was patient in that he did not want to see regression.
Now? He wants to see progress.
So how, if at all, is this season different for Oakland as it enters its fourth quarter?
“I'd say that when you watch us play and you watch us work every day, there is absolutely nothing that would give me any indication that there is anybody in that locker room that has any give up in them,” Allen said recently. “I've said this from the very beginning (and) I still believe this -- I like this football team. I like the guys that are in that locker room.
“I understand where we're at from a record standpoint, but these guys have gone out there and given us everything that they've had every single week. I continue to expect to see that for the last four weeks of the season.”
Fair enough. Last year, the Raiders seemed to quit on Allen in November before becoming more competitive in the final few weeks. Consider: in that six-game losing streak, Oakland was outscored by a combined 215-109, getting thumped by an average score of 36-18.
But the Raiders regrouped and actually outscored their final three opponents by a combined 42-41.
And while a loss is a loss is a loss, this year's team has been more, shall we say, competitive.
In this current stretch of four defeats in five games, the Raiders have lost by an average score of 30-22. And if you take out the aberration that was the 49-20 blowout by the Philadelphia Eagles that started this trend, the Raiders have been outscored by 10 points in the other four games, 101-91.
So as deflating as not being able to hold onto an early lead has been for the Raiders -- if the NFL draft were held today, they'd have the No. 7 overall pick -- they still are harboring high hopes of running the table. But let's be realistic.
Remember, the Raiders have not won consecutive games since last season, let alone four in a row, which they last accomplished in 2002.
“It just shows you how mistakes can really harm us,” receiver Rod Streater said. “A fumble, a couple of penalties kind of stalled drives and things like that. Just these mistakes really showed us what the value is of playing a complete game is, just on the mental side, too.
“As it goes on, we've just got to make sure that we don't make those mistakes, and we'll win.”
But Streater was not finished. Not when he was asked what motivates the team now that it is assured of an 11th straight non-winning season. The Raiders are still just two games out of a final playoff spot ... technically.
“Look around the league and in the AFC, there's not a lot of winning teams,” he said. “We're still right there. If we finish (8-8), it gives us a chance to see what we can pull off. Obviously, we've got three divisional games (remaining), plus the Jets are in the AFC, so we've still got a good chance.
“We've just got to finish and make sure we pull these last wins out.”
First things first. The Raiders have not won on the Jets' home turf since 1996 and Oakland is riding a 12-game losing streak in the Eastern time zone, dating to 2009.
Again, Allen swears this is a different team. After all, it ended a 10-year losing streak in games immediately following a bye back in October.
“I'm onto the guys now in 2013 and what these guys are doing, and (how) these guys are competing,” Allen said. “They come to work every day, they do everything that we ask of them to do, and they're going to continue to do that until the very end.”