Raiders finish strong, make case for Cable

Tom Cable still doesn't know how much longer he'll remain head coach of the Oakland Raiders but he's certainly made a strong case for himself over the past two weeks. The Raiders capped their season off with a big win Sunday against Tampa Bay and knocked the Bucs out of the playoffs in the process, something that will earn Cable points in the eyes of owner Al Davis.

Davis did not make the trip to Florida on the advice of doctors who were concerned about the leg and ankle injuries suffered by the 79-year-old Davis during a fall recently in San Diego. Presumably Davis watched the game from the comforts of home and was no doubt pleased with what he saw.

The Raiders, who went into the game as 13-point underdogs, rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter behind the running of Michael Bush to post their second consecutive impressive win and put a positive ending on what has been an otherwise tumultuous and frustrating year.

Bush, whom the team tried to convert to a fullback earlier this season, rushed for a career-high 177 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns. With starter Justin Fargas and backup Darren McFadden slowed by injuries, Bush powered Oakland's offense to a dominating day on the ground against a Tampa Bay run defense that had been one of the league's stingiest most of the year.

Bush's second TD came after he appeared to be stopped for no gain. But the second-year player shook off a would-be tackler and burst into the open on his way to a 67-yard scoring run that gave the Raiders a 28-24 lead. Sebastian Janikowski followed with a 25-yard field goal to make it 31-24 and Oakland's defense held up to preserve the win.

Now the question facing Davis is what to do with his head coaching position. Because of the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate, the Raiders cannot simply give Cable the job even if they wanted to.

Cable has been adamant about wanting to stay and was outspoken last week in saying as much. Two weeks ago he didn't have much of a case, not after the team had lost three straight and dropped to 3-11.

But following a big win over Houston last week in which the Raiders played arguably their best all-around game from start to finish, backed by the comeback win over Tampa Bay, Cable seems to have a stronger case.

Oakland won back-to-back games for the first time this season to finish 4-8 under Cable despite the defection two weeks ago of offensive line coach James Cregg and a pair of low-level assistants. While his overall record isn't enough to earn the full-time gig, the fact that the Raiders played as well as they did against Houston and Tampa Bay might be enough for Cable to warrant strong consideration for the job.

Make no mistake about it, either. By beating the Bucs and ending their playoff hopes in the process is a huge achievement for Oakland and may be all the convincing Davis needs. The Raiders did it without their best defensive player -- Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was inactive -- while their top two running backs were limited.

Cable has also played the company line pretty well, something Lane Kiffin couldn't bring himself to do. That, again, plays well in Davis' eyes.

But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a done deal. On the contrary. Cable has made some definite coaching mistakes along the way and the team still only won a third of the games he coached. Had it not been for their recent turnaround the past two games, the Raiders most assuredly would have been heading into the offseason preparing for a new head coaching search.

As it is, they'll have to do a search anyway. It's just a matter of whether it will be a formality along the way to Cable getting the job or if Davis wants to wipe the slate clean again and start over.

No matter what happens, it's clear Cable is standing on a lot firmer ground than he was a short time ago. And that is an achievement in itself.

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