Head coaches and assistant coaches coming and going, like buses down a boulevard.

Quarterbacks, from rookies in the bloom of youth to veterans nearing the end, being rented and released.

Trades being made, free agents being signed and collegians being drafted and invited to training camps.

For seven years the Raiders searched for the right coach or the right player or an effective combination of coaches and players to fix what they have broken. For seven years they longed to say they are appreciably better than they were the year before and, therefore, will regain the respect they once could take for granted.

And now that the Raiders finally can say that, now that the NFL can see Oakland is better than at any time since 2002, it still won't stop the job turnover and might not be enough to dramatically slow it.

Not after a 31-26 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday at the Coliseum dropped the Raiders record to 7-8 and left plenty of room to wonder if owner Al Davis will offer another contract to his head coach.

It's entirely conceivable Tom Cable, despite presiding over the most competitive Raiders team since 2002, will not get a new contract.

That's because the goal, according to Cable, was for Oakland to be in the playoffs. And, moreover, it's because the acceptable standard for the franchise, as stated by Davis many years ago, is to win the Super Bowl.


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Though the Raiders were closer to the postseason than at any time since 2002, which ended with a loss in Super Bowl XXXVII, they are nowhere near an AFC Championship game, much less another Super Bowl. Kansas City's win over Tennessee on Sunday dashed the Raiders' playoff hopes.

Yet the improvement is undeniable. After averaging slightly more than four wins per season for seven years, they could win their eighth game in the season finale next Sunday at Kansas City. The Raiders are on the rise.

"I've seen it because it's kind of happening all around you on a weekly basis," Cable said. "There's a ton of improvement."

Cable then conceded he was disappointed in the failure to reach the playoffs, especially after the Raiders positioned themselves to play significant games down the stretch.

Which partly explains why upon the official end to the playoff chase, no one was eager to embrace the empty conclusion and no one was ready to move on to next season. It was easier and more palatable, at least momentarily, to sift through the wreckage of 2010 and examine what of value might be worth salvaging.

"We're better than we used to be at finishing games," seventh-year defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said.

"We're definitely better," fifth-year linebacker Thomas Howard said.

"I feel like we're a playoff team," fourth-year tight end Zach Miller said.

Here is where facts intrude. Oakland's 5-0 record in the AFC West is as commendable as its 2-8 record outside the division is mystifying. Routs over San Diego, Seattle and Denver are negated by puzzling losses to Arizona, Houston, the 49ers and Miami.

Kicker Sebastian Janikowski may be the enduring symbol of the season, booting nine consecutive field goals in October -- after missing three in one game, the excruciating loss to the Cardinals.

The Raiders, in the end, are more accurately defined by the 31 second-half points they allowed in a crucial Dec. 12 game at Jacksonville than the 39 they scored the following week to beat the Broncos.

When the goal was there to be grabbed, they couldn't.

So let the second-guessing begin. Did Cable -- and perhaps offensive coordinator Hue Jackson -- err by playing roulette with quarterbacks Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski? Does anyone get blamed because Nnamdi Asomugha, the team's best defensive back and highest-paid player, was not on the field when the Jaguars connected for a game-turning touchdown pass in the most damaging loss of the season?

Is their roster still not deep enough to withstand the aches and injuries -- Darren McFadden, Rolando McClain, Richard Seymour, Asomugha and Miller, to name five -- bound to occur over the course of an NFL season?

And, ultimately, does following a 5-11 season with a 7-9 or 8-8 record constitute enough progress for Davis to maintain continuity with Cable and his staff?

The demise of the 2010 season crushed the vision and hope that inspired the Raiders throughout, rendering momentarily insignificant the months of effort and pints of sweat.

It killed the buzz that made the season matter.

Meanwhile, the buzz over Cable's future remains strong as ever, until silenced by his boss.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.