By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Sunday, December 28th, 2008 at 1:32 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Raider Nation, Cable’s your guy.
There is simply no other conclusion Al Davis can reach than to remove the “interim” from the job title of Tom Cable and make him the head coach of the Raiders for 2009 and beyond.
All Cable did was step in to the most impossible job situation in the NFL and deliver the hope of real progress in the last two games of a lost season.
A 31-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium was the most rousing Raiders sendoff since 1999, when they embarked on a three-year run of AFC West titles with a 41-38 overtime win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
It so happens that the coach that day, Jon Gruden, so jubilant at the Chiefs demise at Arrowhead, was the one who walked off the field Sunday with the knowledge that his team lost four straight games to end the season and is out of the playoffs at 9-7.
That Chiefs game happens to be the only time since the Raiders came back from Los Angeles in 1995 that they won a game after Dec. 1 outside of the state of California.
To put it mildly, the Raiders have gone into a turtle position in the season’s final month, which makes what Cable has done all the more impressive.
Considering the mess Cable walked in to, a disaster which former coach Lane Kiffin and Davis share equal blame, he couldn’t have done much more.
After back-to-back losses to San Diego and New England, Cable may have been the only one who believed it when he insisted he saw progress. It’s hard not to believe him now.
When the clock ticked to zero against the Bucs, Cable thrust his arms into the air in victory. Right next to him was unrestricted free agent Nnamdi Asomugha, doing the same thing.
It’s worth noting that Asomugha has seen nothing like the last two weeks since he joined the Raiders in 2003, the start of their six-year demise. Punter Shane Lechler, who played a key role keeping the Bucs in bad field position, surely saw a difference as well.
If Davis makes Cable the head coach, Asomugha, all but out the door mentally and looking for a way to force a trade if franchised, may suddenly want to stay on and enjoy the ride. It could give Lechler second thoughts as well.
If Davis picks anyone else, it’s simply another change _ one coming after back-to-back games the likes of which haven’t been seen since the AFC championship game season in 2002.
Neither Bill Callahan in Year 2, Norv Turner, Art Shell or Kiffin ever had teams which were more resilient and tough for eight consecutive quarters of football.
Cable promised to be a “no excuses” coach, and it was never more evident than in beating Tampa Bay.
Asomugha was inactive with a neck injury, leaving Stanford Routt as the starter along with Chris Johnson and return specialist Justin Miller as the third corner.
Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden came into the game injured and couldn’t finish.
So what happened?
Michael Bush, who has been reluctant to embrace playing fullback, went out and made his case for being a tailback with a 177-yard, 27-carry, 2 touchdown performance that carred him to exhaustion and beyond.
Perhaps the most important reason to keep Cable is that under his watch, JaMarcus Russell validated his No. 1 pick status in the last two games of the season.
Think back to the day Kiffin was given the boot via overhead projector, and Davis saying that he thought Russell was a special player who needed to be turned loose.
With Cable has head coach, Russell grew up in his last two games. First was a nearly flawless performance in a 27-16 win over a Houston team on a four-game winning streak.
The win over Tampa Bay brought with it a different lesson. Russell survived a big interception, returned 85 yards by Sabby Piscatelli, that led to a Bucs touchdown and a 24-14 lead.
He brought the Raiders right back, with the help of a 43-yard pass interference penalty engineered on a halfback option pass call made by Cable.
I talked with one player this week in casual conversation who was making a case for Cable staying on, in part because of his ability to keep the team together “after Lane quit on us.”
I’m guessing the postgame locker room will have no shortage of Cable supporters. I’m also guessing he’s got one back home named Al Davis, watching on television.
Davis usually takes his time with these things, but if he’s smart, he’ll satisfy the Rooney Rule in short order and make Cable his coach.
More to come later this afternoon . . .