The groundswell of newfound enthusiasm and belief started Nov. 7, according to Raiders coach Norv Turner. It gained momentum during the team's bye week and carried over into the game against the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 21.
It reached new heights Sunday night, and there's no telling how far it can take the Raiders after their stunning 25-24 victory over the Denver Broncos.
"It's a great win," Turner said, "but can we build on it?"
Turner seems to think the sky is the limit after Oakland's Mile High comeback against a Denver team that trounced Oakland 31-3 six weeks earlier.
The Broncos started the day 7-3 and tied for the AFC West lead with the Chargers. The Raiders needed a victory just to keep alive their faint playoff hopes after losing seven of their first 10 games. Go figure.
"If a win like this is an isolated example, then that's what it is," Turner said of Sunday's come-from-behind victory against the Broncos. "But what I see, and I've seen it since we got ready to play Carolina, there was a feel after that San Diego game that we have to go and play better."
He was referring to the game the Chargers beat the Raiders 42-14 on Oct. 31. Turner, quarterback Kerry Collins and cornerback Charles Woodson criticized the team's play and issued a challenge for players to stop talking and start producing.
Such lopsided losses were inexcusable, they said. Eight games were more than enough for young, inexperienced or new players to jell and play the kind of football expected of them.
Lo and behold, the Raiders beat the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 7 for their first road victory in almost 23 months. Then came a rematch against the Chargers in which the Raiders came within one play of pulling off an upset before losing 23-17. On Sunday night, the Raiders rallied from 10- and 11-point deficits in beating the Broncos on the road in a nationally televised game.
"I see it as what's happened over the last month more than what happened Sunday," Turner said.
Losing big to the Chargers and Broncos the second time around would have undermined Turner's grand plan, the one he hatched in the spring that promised gradual improvement.
"There's a process you have to go through," Turner said, "and our team has had to go through that. We've gone through it with injuries, through playing a lot of young guys."
Now, rookies such as right offensive tackle Robert Gallery and right guard Jake Grove, second-year wide receivers Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel, second-year linebacker Sam Williams and new quarterback Collins get it, Turner said. The many players who struggled early on have matured into reliable contributors.
Curry caught six passes for 110 yards and a touchdown Sunday night. Williams made a handful of key defensive plays. Gallery and Grove were part of an offensive line that gave Collins plenty of time to throw in perhaps Collins' best performance as a Raider.
"We've got five games left and let's continue to grow and let's build on this game and everything we've done over the last month," Turner said. "That's not necessarily just in games, that's in how we practice, things we've gotten done on the field, our approach."
The recent spate of encouraging play might not be enough to spur the Raiders to a playoff berth this season, but it has everyone looking forward to each game and seeing how far they can take this thing.
"I wanted it to happen six, seven, eight weeks ago," Turner said. "You get optimistic, you get excited and all the way back to the way we played against Tampa (Bay, a 30-20 victory Sept. 26), you come out of that game and you think you're going to do everything you want to do. The best thing is, those guys feel they've gotten better."
I'm really happy and excited that wee could pull off a win like that. I really hope we can win the rest of our games and let fate deal us a hand and possibly giving us the wild card. I think if we really can get Collins(26-45, 339 yds,4 Td's) and Porter(135 yds.) to get in the game, every game, we could make something of this blistered season.