The Oakland Raiders can only hope for a better and less tumultuous ending, than 2003 beginning Sunday when they visit the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons. Since the Raiders overhauled the roster and coaching staff, the 2004 season is considered a definite disappointment at 4-8.
The Raiders were 3-9 at this time last season but have expressed that while the record might not be better, the attitude is. Oakland's last four games of last season were a disaster, save for a 20-12 win over eventual AFC North champ Baltimore.
The Raiders lost to Pittsburgh (27-7), Green Bay (41-7) and San Diego (21-14) and the season could not end soon enough. That stretch of games came after then head coach Bill Callahan referred to the Raiders as "the dumbest team in America." Oakland dismissed Callahan two days after the regular season ended.
During that stretch of games the Raiders preached the importance of pride, only right now there's more reason to believe it.
"You've got to understand this is our livelihood," Raiders linebacker Danny Clark said. "This is our job. A lot of us love this game for what it is. When you wake up, you've got to be ready to compete."
Since Oakland was embarrassed 42-14 on Halloween in a game at San Diego; it has gone 2-2. The Raiders lost to San Diego (23-17) and Kansas City (34-27) and has beaten Carolina (27-24) and Denver (25-24). The win over the Broncos knocked Denver out of a first place tie for the AFC West lead.
"I know that a lot of people see that our record is 4-8 and say, ‘What are we playing for?'" Raiders defensive end Bobby Hamilton said. "We're playing for pride and trying to get it in the right direction."
Quarterback Kerry Collins agreed.
"Everybody is always being evaluated," Collins said. "Every time you step on the field coaches are looking at you. Mr. Davis is looking at you. Our film goes out to every team we play and we want to put something good on film. There's another thing called pride."
There is at least one thing the Raiders can say they've accomplished despite the disappointing season. They have won on the road – twice. Oakland entered its win over Carolina on Nov. 7 having lost 13 consecutive road games. That streak was the second-longest active in the NFL. Interestingly enough, the Arizona Cardinals had the longest active streak at 17 games snapped when they beat Miami that same day.
"We've played well on the road," Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "The road is big for us. We always like to do well on the road. In the past we haven't done as well."
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at email@example.com