Gutierrez: Next Steps Will Tell Raiders' Tale

Gutierrez: Next Steps Will Tell Raiders' Tale
November 9, 2010, 5:53 pm
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Nov. 9, 2010GUTIERREZ ARCHIVERAIDERS PAGE RAIDERS VIDEOPaul GutierrezCSNCalifornia.com

ALAMEDA Gridlock never looked so good to Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski.

The Raiders punter and placekicker, teammates since coming into the NFLtogether in 2000, car-pooled to the Coliseum on Sunday. A familiarfeeling overcame them, not unlike the buckets of rain pouring down fromthe heavens, like some long-lost cousin emerging from the wilderness.

There was traffic, Lechler said with a wide-eyed grin. That was pretty cool.

So Lechler leaned over to the his fellow specialist, the guy he freelycalls SeaBass and said, Man, this kind of feels like the old days.But it was good. The place was packed. They were loud and that made iteven better for us.

And with a roaring sellout crowd sent home with a 23-20 overtime defeatof Kansas City and visions of 2002 dancing in their collective heads,the Raiders, 5-4 for the first time since that Super Bowl season, entertheir bye week.

Yes, the Raiders have turned a corner. No doubt theyve learned how towin again. But how they handle not only the relative success of theirfirst nine games, including a three-game winning streak for the firsttime since you guessed it 2002, and also the bye week, will tellthe tale of this rebuilding team.

They have lost their last seven games the week immediately followingtheir bye. And this is Oaklands latest bye since 2004, when it alsoplayed nine games before the break. Byes were instituted into the NFLschedule in 1990.

There is a fine line between rest and rust, and by the time the Raidersresume their schedule at Pittsburgh on Nov. 21, we will know on whichside of the stripe they reside.

If you dont handle (the bye week) right, it can be bad, offereddefensive tackle Richard Seymour. You can gain a lot from it, and youcan lose a lot. But I think if we handle this thing the right way theway things have been going with the attention to detail and the waysguys have bought into what were trying to do, I think its going to bea really good thing for us.

Beside keeping their heads on right, the break gives the Raiders anopportunity to heal and regain the services of such injured key playersas shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle), run-stuffing defensivetackle John Henderson (foot), rising star tight end Zach Miller (foot),sure-handed receivers Louis Murphy (chest) and Chaz Schilens (knee) andfolk hero quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder).

Oakland has won three consecutive games without some of its best players. How good could it be at full strength?

Yeah, its very exciting, said coach Tom Cable. But until theyreout there going full time, we cant really get too high yet. Its niceto know thats just around the corner.

All of which begs dual questions with the Raiders rolling (again, arelative term in these parts) and 3-0 in the AFC West for the firsttime since 1990, could the bye halt any momentum, and do any of theveterans worry about such a hiccup effect?

No, I dont, Seymour said. If you can play, you can play. If youre a baller, youre a baller.

Besides, with the Steelers playing Monday at Cincinnati and home nextweek against New England, the Raiders have two opportunities to checkthem out and scout them on national television before facing them.

So its a great opportunity for us to physically get well, Seymour said, and to explode when we see them next time.

Sounds like a plan. So long as the Raiders continue buying what Cable is selling.

I guess you can say (its a) feeling of brotherhood, like a bigbrother, I got your back, you got my back, said cornerback ChrisJohnson. For the last three weeks weve been playing like abrotherhood, and you can see it on the field. If one person misses agap, you got your brother right there beside you. Everybodys got eachothers back around here now.

Sounds like those not-so-long-ago old days Lechler was talking about, right?

Its good to see it turn full circle, he said.

And the reason? Lechler said it was Cable, who followed Lane Kiffin,who came after Art Shell, who replaced Norv Turner, who succeeded BillCallahan, who was Jon Grudens replacement. All since Lechlers rookieseason of 2000.

Everybody trusts him, Lechler said of Cable. Not that we didnttrust the other coaches, but we can believe everything he says.

Honesty, and we believe him.

Gridlock and trust. Two commodities in short supply here the past eightyears. The bye also afford the Raiders a chance to restock both.