The Raiders' 34-13 loss to the Washington Redskins had barely been entered into the official record Sunday when someone asked coach Tom Cable whom he imagined his starting quarterback would be next weekend in Denver. If pro football wasn't such serious business, the moment would have been worthy of a laugh track.
"Let's get to tomorrow," Cable said wearily, "and we'll talk about all that."
All the talk in the world won't change what has been apparent for months and what congealed against Washington into an irrefutable truth: The Raiders never will arrive at tomorrow with JaMarcus Russell as their quarterback.
As long as he's under center — throwing high, wide and behind his receivers; taking sacks a more ambulatory quarterback would avoid; presuming the onus to be on the players around him; and content in the belief he is doing all that can be reasonably expected — it will continue to be today.
And today, you may have noticed, has been no picnic for the Raiders.
It wasn't just this loss that brought clarity to Russell's unsatisfactory relationship with the Raiders, and theirs with him. The devil was in the details.
Detail No. 1: Bruce Gradkowski, the journeyman who breathed life into the Raiders upon assuming Russell's starting job on Nov. 22, wasn't great. But he was active and effective. Under his direction, the Raiders trailed 17-10 at halftime, having gained 188 yards and with realistic hopes of their first two-game win streak of the season.
There was no second half for Gradkowski, who injured the MCL in both knees in the first half. When Russell trotted onto the field early in the third quarter, boos cascaded from every occupied corner of the Coliseum.
Detail No. 2: Russell played horribly. "I thought it was a tough situation," Cable said. But it wasn't.
On his first series, despite errant passes that exposed receivers Johnnie Lee Higgins and Darren McFadden to devastating hits, Russell steered the Raiders to a 53-yard field goal that cut the Washington lead to 17-13. It was still a game.
Not for long. Russell threw an interception on his eighth pass. He lost a fumble. Moving around like a man wearing 75-pound shoulder pads, he was sacked six times. The Raiders gained 39 yards on 29 plays in the second half.
Detail No. 3: By the time Cable finished his postgame debriefing, Russell had showered, dressed and fled the locker room and thus was unavailable for comment. (Gradkowski, waddling on two stiff legs, was.) Considering that Cable spoke for little more than eight minutes, it had to be Russell's quickest and most decisive movements all day.
Based on what we've seen out of Russell for the two-plus years leading up to his definitively uninspiring effort against Washington, there is no reason to believe he is or ever will be the quarterback to revive the Raiders.
There is no sign he is progressing with the mechanics of the position, no sign he considers his weight a problem, no sign he has the same passion for the game evident in great players, no sign he feels a need to hold himself accountable.
He has lost his teammates. It was impossible not to notice that the Raiders went flat as soon as he entered the game. One of his sacks had tackle Cornell Green hopping up and down in frustration. After his interception he sat in near-solitude on the bench.
Worse, because it suggests a point of no return, there is every sign he has lost the team's fan base. The latest intimate gathering almost lent credence to the Raiders' preposterous announced attendance of 44,506 as it was booing Russell.
The fact owner Al Davis would allow Russell to be benched — and stay benched for most of four games — indicates he may be less than thrilled with his presumed franchise quarterback. As for Cable, with Gradkowski almost certainly out for the season, he has no choice but to reinstall Russell as the starter.
The scenario by which Russell rehabilitates himself over the final three games is inconceivable at this point. And if he fails, you're looking at the possibility of a sweeping organizational makeover.
That's a discussion for another day — assuming this one ever ends.