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FILE--After a slow start by the Raiders, the sentiment among fans was that head coach Tom Cable be fired at the end of the season, if not earlier. But Cable has led a resurgence that has seen the Raiders win three of their last five games. (Dan Honda/Staff)

ON A RAIDERS team with a majority of men fighting for NFL survival, no one is battling harder than the bulky fellow paid to lead the group.

No, not quarterback JaMarcus Russell.

Yes, coach Tom Cable.

The same guy who not long ago was finished in Oakland, as done as yesterday's french fries, a goner at season's end, if not before.

Cable's job and career were under relentless assault. Allegations by assistant coach Randy Hanson were aimed at Cable's professionalism and forced the coach to operate while under criminal investigation. The ESPN story that alleged he abused previous women in his life — Cable did admit to one transgression — were blasts at the coach's character; the team issued a statement saying it would conduct an investigation. Then, too, Cable worked for a demanding boss and presided over a losing team that was losing the support of many of its fans.

The coach was getting clobbered by factors that get coaches fired. I figured he'd get dumped, as did most observers around the NFL. After a 38-0 home loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 25 led to a three-game losing streak and a 2-7 record, the sentiment among Raiders fans was there would be, and should be, a new coach in 2010.

And there still might be a new man wearing the Raiders headset next season.

But Cable is doing everything in his power to keep it atop his ample head. Beginning with the Nov. 22 win over AFC North leader Cincinnati that snapped the losing streak, Oakland has won three of five. Apparent in the other two wins, Dec. 6 at defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh and Sunday at playoff-positioned Denver, was the spine and tenacity that marked great Raiders teams of old.

That's not to say, by any means, these Raiders are great. At 5-9, they're not. It's conceivable this bump is a case of a team playing its best football after it has lost any chance to reach the playoffs.

Still, the players are busting their butts. And at least some of that is a credit to Cable, who despite taking a sound beating never has stopped busting his own backside.

"The biggest key is staying consistent and making sure that they know I believe in them, the coaches believe in them and that it's a matter of them believing in each other," Cable said Monday. "It's just been staying the course."

Though the course in this case has been filled with obstacles — on and off the field — Cable has proceeded with laserlike focus. He has, by all accounts, not been shaken.

There has been no public loss of composure despite the 260-pound coach being depicted as a Neanderthal, punching scrawny assistants — and doing the same to women.

A cursory search for signs of stress reveals the bags under Cable's eyes seem puffier than they did at the start of training camp. The same, however, could be said of many NFL coaches in December.

"It probably made me stronger," he said of the scrutiny. "As I said from the beginning, I knew the truth and I trusted the system. It worked, like it's supposed to.

"My temperament is not to panic, either. I think when it's done, there's some things I'll get a chance to sit down and laugh about. At the time, though, there was no time for that. I have to stay the course. (The players) need me to be who I am every day."

Through all the staring and pointing and wondering, Cable has called offensive plays, been involved in personnel decisions, overseen personnel changes in the O-line, his area of expertise. He also has been responsible for the care and handling of three quarterbacks: Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye and Russell.

Put another way, never at any time this season has Cable's burden been anything less than tremendous.

"I think probably my passion for turning this around and going to the playoffs with the Oakland Raiders is the coolest thing to me," he said. "That's what I want. I want that more than anything. It's not going to happen this year, but it's going to happen here soon."

Understand, Cable has won little except the support of his players. But that means something in Oakland, where owner Al Davis is universally acknowledged as the final authority on all significant matters.

What's clear, though, is that Cable is blocking and holding and grabbing, like the O-lineman he is, to keep his job. It may be taken away, but he's not giving it up.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.