NEW ORLEANS

IT WAS ALL there, right before his eyes, the quarterback mastering the total passing game, the power runner complementing the speed back, the coach who can spin this talent into touchdowns.

Seeing his Raiders, under their fourth coach in four years, being taken apart Sunday by a powerful New Orleans offense, led by the coach who slipped his grasp, how could Al Davis not feel a dull ache in his soul?

How could he not wonder what if?

What if he were able to make Sean Payton, then the quarterbacks coach in Dallas, an irresistible offer in 2004?

For if Davis had allowed himself to meet Payton's every reasonable demand, in writing, he likely would have persuaded Payton to become the next head coach of the Raiders, perhaps avoiding the decay currently rotting his franchise.

The Saints' 34-3 blistering of Oakland before 70,068 at the Superdome is about as pointed a message as Davis can get — assuming he's willing to acknowledge any message at all.

Tom Cable's debut as Raiders coach yielded precisely the same bottom-line result as the debuts of Lane Kiffin (2007), Art Shell (2006) and Norv Turner (2004) — a loss without redeeming qualities. Moreover, a loss that leaves all concerned wondering if this franchise can ever find its way to appreciable improvement.

Kiffin's finale Sept. 28 against San Diego was a game the Raiders led most of the way before collapsing late, same as they did a week earlier in defeat at Buffalo. There was belief among players that progress was being made, that the gap between Oakland and legitimate NFL contenders was closing.

"There was some of that," linebacker Thomas Howard acknowledged. "We felt like we were getting there."

Consider that buzz killed, if not by the ceremonious firing of Kiffin on Sept. 30, then certainly by a 31-point blowout in the first game under the visibly intense interim coach.

This was an old-fashioned Bayou beatdown, with Drew Brees chopping Oakland's defense into tiny pieces. He completed his first 16 passes and finished 26-for-30 for 320 yards and three touchdowns.

"He might not be the prototype 6-foot-5 guy," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said of the 6-foot quarterback. "But Drew knows how to win. He knows how to work a defense. If I was starting a team and had to pick a quarterback, I'd probably have him at the top of my list.''

Brees found nine receivers, in most every way imaginable, from screen passes to seam routes to out patterns to turn-ins to the occasional deep ball. His execution was superb, making the most of the plays he was given.

Those plays were courtesy of Payton, as good an architect of the passing game as there is on a sideline. A known proponent of the vertical passing game, Payton devised a more patient plan Sunday, keeping most route within 15 yards. Not until late in the third quarter did Brees go deep, completing a 51-yard pass to wideout Devery Henderson, who beat safety Michael Huff.

"Sean Payton is an excellent play-caller, master of the art of play-calling," said Hall, who in Atlanta faced Payton's Saints four times before this year.

Payton came to New Orleans in 2006, two years after he was unable to finalize an agreement with the Raiders and decided to remain with the Cowboys. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 2006, when the Saints led the league in offense and reached the NFC Championship game.

The Raiders have gone 7-30 since Payton joined the Saints, 16-53 since he came so close to following Bill Callahan as the head coach in Oakland. Payton walked away from an oral agreement — discussing the move with then-Dallas coach Bill Parcells and receiving a vastly improved financial package from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

New Orleans thrives, Oakland strives. What was a tale of two teams in need has become a tale of two teams with little in common.

"You have to use them as a model if you're the Oakland Raiders,'' Cable conceded.

Which means Davis' next task is to recruit for next season a coach who can do for his team what Payton did to his team. A coach with offensive creativity. A coach like the guy four years ago figured it was better he stay away from the Raiders.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.