VISIONS OF recent Raiders past include the indifferent jog of Randy Moss, the dispassionate stare of Andrew Walter, the empty rhetoric of Ray Buchanan and the wheezing of an unfit Terdell Sands.

Who can possibly forget the apathy in the voice of demoralized coach Lane Kiffin?

The Raiders of recent vintage routinely rolled over during difficult moments. Uninspired and unconcerned, they were quick to check out, accept defeat, flee the locker room and embrace the possibilities of the evening.

The 2009 Raiders insist times have changed, that they won't surrender on cue in the face of challenge. They are, they say, dedicated men, with deeper souls and a reservoir of tenacity. That's their analysis in the wake of Game 1. And it's credible.

Moreover, it's a ringing endorsement of coach Tom Cable, who has the most difficult job in the organization.

Man after man, players were unanimous in the belief that their 24-20 loss to San Diego is the first step in creating separation from a time when their comfort zone was casual acceptance of whatever came their way. There was little sense of shame because there was little sense of pride.

But they played on Monday night with real purpose and evident desire.

Quarterback JaMarcus Russell, knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter, gritted his teeth, re-entered and threw a go-ahead touchdown pass. Defensive lineman Richard Seymour, roughly 54 hours after arriving in Oakland, played the majority of snaps — and made a visible impact. The running backs showed conviction, the defense was relentless and, yes, that was Cable pumping his fists and leaping into the air.

It appears Cable's troops continue to eat whatever he fed them late last season, when they shrugged off underdog status and took down a couple former Raiders coaches, Mike Shanahan at Denver and Jon Gruden at Tampa Bay, precipitating the firing of both.

Upon hearing reports of Cable allegedly roughing up assistant coach Randy Hanson during training camp last month, the team responded with an audible show of support, chanting "Ca-ble, bumaye," a phrase lifted from African crowds supporting Muhammad Ali before his epic battle with George Foreman.

Cable is an offensive line coach by trade, and his charges typically swear by him. He's intense and stubborn and fair and funny and, above all, he exudes old-school football.

Could it be that this mentality is spreading through his team?

Russell suspects it is. So do cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, running back Michael Bush, tight end Zach Miller and linebacker Kirk Morrison.

"We looked like a team," Bush said, conceding that in years past many players responded to defeat by showering, dressing and leaving — sometimes before the coach concluded his postgame speech.

Hey, anything but staying committed to football and doing what was necessary to address the glaring deficiencies keeping them at or near the bottom of the NFL.

"I (saw) a lot more on the field today than I have most of the time (when) we've won a game," Russell said. "Guys kept pushing and fighting no matter what the circumstance or situation. We just kept pushing."

Don't get me wrong. These Raiders still have a considerable talent deficit relative to the league's elite. They still lack the exchange of input and flexibility of ideas required of a truly progressive organization. They're still held hostage by some of the limitations they place upon themselves.

But these players act and sound and look as if they care, as if football is more than just a highway to money and women and a chance to appear on MTV "Cribs."

"You could see it, you could tell by the way guys were throwing stuff and hanging their heads," Asomugha said. "You could tell guys cared."

While there is and should be debate over the touchdown taken away from rookie wideout Louis Murphy late in the first half, it's indisputable that these Raiders responded unlike their predecessors. That fourth-down, fourth-quarter scoring hookup between Russell and Murphy would not have happened in the past, because the Raiders already would have quit, taking a 31-13 loss and going home.

These Raiders kept at it, leaving a sellout home crowd with visions of beating a better team in every way except on the scoreboard.

We don't know where they're going, but we may have glimpsed their intentions. Isn't the first requirement of a goal, any goal, having the desire to achieve it?

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.