Programming note: For comprehensive Raiders coverage from Alameda, watch SportsNet Central tonight at 6, 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area
Reggie McKenzie's offseason strategy was sound.
The Raiders general manager gave his coaching staff the continuity it craved, added a few decorated veterans for stability and leadership, and then completed his best draft yet.
These Raiders would not be ready to compete for a Super Bowl. But, finally, they were equipped to overcome the toxic effects of a full decade of salary-cap recklessness, personnel misjudgment, franchise instability and general decay.
No longer would the Raiders be the NFL's Oakland joke.
Two games into this season of revival, though, opponents are giggling on the sideline and in the locker room. The Raiders opened with a road loss to a Jets team they could have beaten, then responded in Week 2 by coming home and immediately crushing the spirits of their cautiously optimistic fans.
Here comes Week 3 and a 3,000-mile trip to New England to face the formidable Patriots. A third loss looms. Fans are fatigued with the familiar. Sirens are blaring. McKenzie is puzzled. Players are perplexed. The coaches are under fire.
Those at the team's Alameda headquarters are trying to stay positive despite the fact that this 0-2 start –- and it's a bleak, foreboding 0-2 – has put the team in a hot, dark and windowless pit.
Coach Dennis Allen walked into his daily news conference Wednesday looking like a man on trial with considerable incriminating evidence. He was not defeated. He tried to express faith. He was dour throughout, and unfailingly banal.
He avoided self-evaluation, self-flagellation or any discussion of his status. He talked about the insignificance of practicing well if it doesn’t transfer to the game. His response to possible lineup changes was that the team is constantly being evaluated.
He did, however, concede that this roster is superior to his first two in Oakland.
"We've got more talent on this football team," he said. "We need to go out there and play like it on Sundays."
DA might be a superb defensive coordinator. But after eight wins 34 games in Oakland, we've yet to identify his primary trait as a leader of men. He has yet to exhibit any of the distinguishing characteristics of successful head coaches, most of which fall into one of five categories.
There are those that win with brilliance, such as Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick. There are those who win with an element of fear, such as Jimmy Johnson or Mike Shanahan (with the Broncos). There are those who succeed partly because their passion is contagious, such as Jim Harbaugh or Pete Carroll or Mike Tomlin. There are those who lean on meticulous discipline, such as Tom Coughlin or Tony Dungy. And there are those blessed with incredible talent, such as Mike Ditka (with the Bears).
None of the five seems to fit Allen.
The Coughlin/Dungy model seems closest, but such coaches struggle without strong leaders on staff and on the field. The Raiders, this season, have shown neither.
McKenzie's offseason strategy sought, by design, to address the void in leadership and talent. Charles Woodson, a Super Bowl winner with the Packers, signed on in 2013. And 2014 brought Justin Tuck, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Giants; James Jones, a Super Bowl winner with the Packers; and LaMarr Woodley, a Super Bowl winner with the Steelers. Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Kevin Boothe and Antonio Smith all have played in the Super Bowl.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been a Pro Bowl player.
McKenzie and Allen each sighed and insisted that this team finally is composed of their kinds of players. Workers. Thinkers. Competitors. Men who are love football and are accountable to each other and committed to daily improvement. If these players weren't as productive as they once were, maybe the sheer quantity of the influx would provide the wattage to light the way out of the doldrums.
Nope. Not yet.
It has been eight weeks since they gathered at training camp, and no player or council of players has altered the terrain. Though they might have discovered their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr, the appreciable change needed to separate these Raiders from those of seasons past remains elusive.
There are no indicators of reversal.
The general opinion is that practices are better, that attitudes are good, that the roster is united in its desire to find solutions. But, so far, nothing has changed the game-day result.
"Everybody has got to take it personally," Allen said. "As coaches and players, we've got to take it personally. It's all of our jobs to get it corrected."
Professionals take it personally from Day 1. They don’t waver. They take action on errors. Vanity is at stake. Pride. Nobody who is synonymous with success wants to see his signature attached to futility.
The Raiders have 14 games to validate McKenzie's strategy. They have fallen so low they can achieve moral victory in defeat on Sunday. But even that would mean breaking an old, familiar habit.