The competitive nature of NFL players prevents them from writing off a season as long as there's still a glimmer of hope. That's where the Raiders stand as they enter the final stretch of the season — balancing optimism with a healthy does of reality.

Yet, deep down, they no doubt realize that another season has just about slipped away and a seventh straight season without a playoff berth is coming, perhaps as soon as Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It just piles on and piles on," third-year defensive end Jay Richardson said. "The frustration, there's no word for it in the dictionary for how that feels. Frustration is an understatement. You just go back to work. Every week you refocus yourself. You find little goals for yourself."

For the Raiders, that entails things such as building for next season, finishing strong and, perhaps, avoiding a seventh consecutive season of 11 losses or more.

The Raiders' six-year run of such seasons is an NFL record. They need three victories in the final five games to avoid extending that ignominious streak.

Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha arrived in 2003, with the team fresh from a Super Bowl appearance. He had visions of perennial playoff runs.

Instead, he was ushered into the NFL with a 4-12 season his rookie year. Even so, that first year was somewhat tolerable because he was young, had his whole NFL career ahead of him and didn't know any better.


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"Every season gets more difficult because you go from someone that's new to the league who doesn't know very much," Asomugha said. "Then you mature and you start to know a lot, but what's going on now is the same as what was going on back then, as far as the losing. Then it just makes it even more difficult because now you know."

The Raiders (3-8) already are eliminated from contention for the AFC West title. Their lone hope rests with winning their final five games and hoping 8-8 is good enough for one of two wild-card berths.

That happens about as often as the Raiders going a game without committing a penalty. Therefore, they are faced with the prospect of playing most of the final month of this season with little more to play for than pride, respect and individual statistics.

Meanwhile, the Steelers are 6-5 and still in the playoff hunt, yet they are talking as if their season is unraveling on the heels of back-to-back overtime losses.

What Asomugha and his teammates wouldn't do to be 6-5 or even finish with six victories.

"They're used to winning," Asomugha said, "so, when you lose three games or something like that, it's the biggest deal in the world. And, for them, that's where they are right now, so they said everyone's got hell to pay the next two weeks. "... That's the nature of what they're going through. They win every year, so a couple of losses puts them in a bad position."

Linebacker Sam Williams also joined the Raiders in 2003. He, too, is at the point where he isn't sure what it's going to take for the Raiders to end their losing ways.

"When we played so well against San Diego in the opener, it looked as if this was going to be the year," Williams said. "But we just couldn't carry that momentum over. It's frustrating going through this every year, but we know that it's going to taste sweet when we turn it around. Guys like Nnamdi, Justin (Fargas) and me have been working too hard and waiting too long for this not to end up working out in our favor."

no seventh heaven
The Raiders are 3-8 and on pace for their seventh consecutive season of at least 11 losses and no playoff berth. What follows is a season-by-season look at how the Raiders fared since they played in the Super Bowl in the 2002 season:
Missed
Season Record playoffs by
2003 4-12 6 games
2004 5-11 5 games
2005 4-12 7 games
2006 2-14 7 games
2007 4-12 6 games
2008 5-11 6 games
2009 3-8 ?