ARLINGTON, Texas -- This is what learning how to win looks like.

Coming close and falling on your face is frustrating, irritating. But it can also be promising.

Sure, the 31-24 Turkey Day loss to the Dallas Cowboys might feel like the same ol' Raiders, who probably doused their flickering postseason hopes with a come-from-ahead defeat. And, no doubt, this movie looks familiar to the faithful followers. The fact of the matter remains, though: These lessons must be learned if Oakland is to ever be a legit NFL contender.

Whether the Raiders can capitalize on this education via experience, and whether coach Dennis Allen is the right teacher, is another story. But for now, Raiders fans can be thankful for the consolation prize: Oakland is further along in the process than anyone thought it would be at this point.

Matt McGloin (14) of the Oakland Raiders throws the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 28, 2013, in Arlington, Texas.
Matt McGloin (14) of the Oakland Raiders throws the ball against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on Nov. 28, 2013, in Arlington, Texas. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Take your medicine with your team.

"I think this team has something here they can build on," veteran safety Charles Woodson said. "I just don't think we're quite there yet as a team. But the great thing about being here this year is we've got some guys who will fight. That's great to see."

It's hard on the heart, for sure, watching the Raiders flirt with legitimacy. Thursday's showing was a microcosm for how this season has played out.

They were just good enough to ignite your fantastical side. A fumble returned for a touchdown on the opening kickoff had #RaiderNation spilling cranberry sauce on the carpet in celebration.

A few pretty passes here, a nice tackle there, your mind starts concocting. Then a textbook, 12-play, 50-yard drive gobbled 7:46 of the clock and put Oakland up two touchdowns late in the second quarter.

It was enough to get you hoping beyond reason.

Maybe they can beat a good team on the road.

Maybe they can run off a little winning streak and make the playoffs.

Maybe, just maybe, they can win the Super Bowl.

Of course, reality caught up with them. Tony Romo led the Cowboys on a string of 24 unanswered points against the Raiders' previously disruptive defense. Oakland's offense had the ball for just nine minutes in the second half, and during those brief spells managed just five first downs.

Suddenly, the Raiders look like an overmatched, under-talented bunch that was just teasing earlier.

"We started out fast. We just couldn't hold up," Allen said. "In the second half, we wore down defensively. ... I just think it's guys being able to hang in there and make plays when they get those opportunities."

But before you write them off as the typical Raiders, ask yourself this: Couldn't it be worse?

After so many games, so many years, of not showing any spunk, these Raiders have managed to muster some resilience. They're exhibiting the kind of moxie that gives themselves a chance to win games, even if it is a long shot.

Certainly, Oakland committed a plethora of mistakes to snatch that chance away from itself.

The rash of false starts. Whiffing on the tackle of Dallas tight end Jason Witten, allowing a drive-saving first down that led to a score. The questionable decision to throw a corner fade -- which was picked off in the end zone -- to a 5-foot-9 receiver in Jacoby Ford when 6-4 receiver Andre Holmes had it going.

But those are all teachable moments, growing pains in the pursuit of development.

The Raiders can't be a force in their daunting division unless they take their lumps. They won't ever become real contenders in the AFC without mastering the art of the little things. Yes, they will need more talent. But this is a step that can't go circumvented, like carbs on Thanksgiving.

This step was supposed to come later for the Silver & Black. The Raiders are on their third quarterback, their "star" running back hasn't given them anything all year, and the defense is, in the words of Allen, "beat up." Still, the Raiders were a timely play or two from joining the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos as the only opponents to win at AT&T Stadium this season.

That's not a win. But that's not nothing.

"These last two weeks, we were right there," receiver Rod Streater said after totaling three catches for 57 yards. "I feel like we're growing. We're a way better team. I know the record doesn't show it, but we're right there. Experience is the best teacher."

Contact Marcus Thompson II mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com.