PERHAPS THE saddest snapshot yet regarding the state of the 2009 Raiders came in the fourth quarter Sunday. A scattered and agitated few stood in the damp Coliseum air, rain dripping from their ponchos, crying out for the third-string quarterback.
That would be Charlie Frye.
You know Charlie Frye. He's the guy who in one year as a starter in Cleveland, threw 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and was NFL's 27th-rated passer. He was chased out of town, traded to Seattle in 2007 and signed by the Raiders in June.
Frye has distinguished himself for his current team by sitting in on meetings and carrying a mean clipboard.
Yet he was perceived by many as the only man with a chance to rescue their team from JaMarcus Russell and the wretched unraveling (not all of it his) unfolding before their eyes. It was as if any chance for a victory rested on having ABJ at quarterback.
Anybody but JaMarcus.
Russell's performance, however, was but one factor in this galling 34-13 loss to Washington. Forced into action when starter Bruce Gradkowski suffered injuries to both knees late in the first half, Russell played as he has for most of this season. He was neither dynamic nor productive.
But the second half of this game was so much more than just another episode of Bad JaMarcus. It exposed yet again the fragile psychological tightrope on which the Raiders (4-9) constantly stagger.
It was just last week that they went into Pittsburgh and laid out the defending champion Steelers. It was a shocking victory that precipitated a feel-good vibe that lingered into the week. Coach Tom Cable authorized posters in and around the locker room suggesting a second straight win could signal a return to glory after 63/4 years of instability and incompetence.
The most important thing for the Raiders on this day, then, was pride. And standing up for themselves and for what they represent. And playing to satisfy their own competitive hearts.
Yet they were sloppy early, missing tackles in bunches, committing costly penalties (75 yards on nine in the first half), watching a pass drop through the usually reliable hands of tight end Zach Miller deep downfield.
"That's not us (and) that's not been us," Cable said of the penalties. "But again, we had an opportunity to win a game here ... and we did not take care of business. The penalty thing just kind of falls in line with that."
Moreover, the Raiders could not establish the run or protect their quarterback. Gradkowski was sacked twice, Russell six times.
Still, the Raiders hung around against a Washington (4-9) team that has struggled almost as badly for nearly as many years. Despite a 17-10 halftime deficit, the Raiders seemed very much in the game — until Russell stepped onto the field.
Accompanied by a chorus of boos from a crowd he lost months ago, JaMarcus immediately led the Raiders to a drive that ended with a field goal, narrowing the score to 17-13. His next drive was an unmitigated disaster, getting as far as the Washington 28 but concluding on a Shane Lechler punt on fourth-and-35 from the Oakland 47 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
Just like that, the Raiders were done. They were outscored 17-0 and the rest of the way, the offense managing only one first down and the defense allowing 10 first downs and 141 yards. Washington ended up with its highest point total since 2006.
"There were some things we didn't do very well," Cable conceded. "I think we didn't play very well in the offensive line and the secondary. We didn't tackle well, too many penalties. There (are) a number of things there."
The only way one man's presence, a reserve quarterback no less, can suck the will of out of a team is if that team has a soft spine and faint heartbeat.
Then again, has this not been evident all season? Though linebacker Kirk Morrison's tendency is to stay optimistic regardless of conditions, even he conceded there is no positive spin for a team that has followed its four wins with losses by a cumulative score of 119-23.
"People look at everything we did last week," he said, referring to the comeback win at Pittsburgh, "and now (they'll say) it's a fluke."
This is how fans end up grabbing their skulls and screaming. They buy tickets and, too proud for outright resignation, end up pleading for the third-string quarterback.
"We want Frye!"
Is there a more vivid and poignant illustration of the hopelessness?