Sunday, October 19, 2008

Raiders' Cable refuses to let history taint his first career win

Don’t believe those so-called official NFL standings when you read that the Raiders are 2-4 after Sunday’s 16-13 win over Brett Favre and the New York Jets in overtime.

They’re 1-0. And Raiders interim coach Tom Cable is 1-0, not 1-1, since replacing the fired Lane Kiffin. Just ask him. Actually, Cable told us without prompting after Sunday’s win.

“Well, how ’bout that,” Cable said. “Let’s talk about the character of this football team before we talk about anything else, how hard they played, how long they played. We’re 1-0, and that is the goal of this team every Sunday, and we were able to go out and do that.”

The longer Cable lasts in this job, the more we learn about him. We now know that he loves coming up with themes – weekly and long-term – that he pounds into his players’ heads and repeats compulsively to the press.

This week Cable put his spin on taking them one game at a time.

During his seven-minute post-game press conference, Cable must have said the Raiders were 1-0 as often as John McCain says “my friends” in a stump speech.

“I think we made some strides,” Cable said. “We’re not going to worry about what went wrong or what we could have done better right now. We’ll worry about that tomorrow because we’re 1-0.”

A bit cheesy? Yeah. Think sharp cheddar. But coaches often resort to cheesy slogans and motivational ploys because, well, they often work.

Many of Cable’s players were parroting his “We’re One and Oh” line after the game.

“Bottom line, we got the win,” said Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who intercepted a Favre pass and helped hold him to 197 yards passing and zero touchdowns. “We won. It wasn’t pretty. One and oh.”

What’s important is the fact that Cable’s players are apparently buying almost everything he’s selling, not just the one week at a time mantra.

According to Hall, Cable met with the players on Monday and “called out” a wide assortment of Raiders to do more than they had been doing, to play up to their potential. He told his players to “challenge themselves” to make more plays and to practice and play harder.

“Tom’s been preaching his style of play, his attitude,” Hall said. “It’s rubbing off. We’re fired up. Guys bought into it.”

Cable’s attitude is straight blue collar, just what you’d expect from a beefy, no-nonsense offensive line coach. After the Raiders got crushed last week by the New Orleans Saints in Cable’s debut, it was crucial that they got some positive reinforcement Sunday. Another loss, and Cable’s players might have started tuning him out the way countless Raiders players have tuned out countless former coaches during tough times.

Under Kiffin, the Raiders suffered come-from-ahead losses to Buffalo and San Diego, blowing fourth-quarter leads both times. The Raiders let New York come back in the fourth quarter and force overtime, but they prevailed in overtime when Sebastian Janikowski hit a team-record 57-yard field goal.

“Relief, relief, relief,” Hall said of his reaction to Janikowski’s game-winner. “These wins are hard to come by. We let two slip out of our hands. This was huge. Just for the sake of Tom Cable’s success.”

Cable now has some evidence that his approach just might work.

“It’s a great win,” Raiders running back Justin Fargas said. “Guys are believing. It’s more than just a single win. It’s something we can look to down the road whenever we face adversity or tough times.

“We did need this. It was a test. We passed it. We’re 1-0.”

Must be true.

What else have we learned about Cable? Well, he’s making sure to embrace former Raiders greats and the team’s history, something Kiffin didn’t do, to Al Davis’ dismay.

On Saturday night, Cable had former Raiders Ken Stabler, Ray Chester and Phil Villapiano speak to his team. An overriding theme to their speeches, Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said, concerned digging deep and finding ways to win close games.

“We believe now,” Asomugha said. “I think we needed this to spark our success.”

Cable is demanding a lot from his players and coaches, but he’s also giving them plenty of praise and deflecting much of the blame. Again, Davis must be happy.

Asked about the Raiders’ penalty-fest in the first quarter – 7 for 40 yards – Cable blamed himself.

“That’s my fault,” Cable said. “I wanted them juiced and ready to rip someone’s lips off. That’s what it was. So that’s on me. At the same time, we have to have better attention to that detail. I’ll look at that tomorrow. Right now, I’m enjoying being 1-0.”

Late in the fourth quarter, Cable outsmarted himself when, with the Raiders leading 13-13, he called a late timeout, just before Jay Feely attempted a 52-yard field goal. Feely missed, his kick hitting the left upright. But thanks to Cable, he got a second chance. Of course he made that one.

Cable said he had second thoughts after channeling Mike Shanahan.

“Sure you do, but what do you do? I called it. And so you’ve got to live with it,” Cable said. “Yeah, I was kicking myself for a bit.”

Once overtime began, the Raiders went three-and-out twice before putting together the game-winning drive, with JaMarcus Russell hitting Javon Walker for 16 yards and Zach Miller for 38.

“We got a little conservative. And that’s my fault on offense,” Cable said, accepting more blame. “I said, ‘Look, let’s just go back and be balanced. Let’s go back and throw it and run it and mix it up. We did that and JaMarcus was marvelous and guys caught the football for him. Greg (Knapp) did a great job of calling that last segment. I’m just proud of those guys.”

If you couldn’t tell already, Cable is a so-called players’ coach, another quality Davis values highly.

Consider his decision to let Janikowski kick what turned out to be the longest field goal in Raiders history. Cable said that Janikowski told him he could make it if the Raiders drove to the Jets’ 40. They got to the 39, and Cable sent Janikowski onto the field.

“You’ve just got to believe in your players,” Cable said. “That’s really what that decision was all about.”

Cable made one other decision that pointed to his aggressiveness and fearlessness. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Raiders faced fourth-and-2 from their 27. The Jets had just marched 87 yards for a touchdown to tie it 10-10. Cable decided he needed to do something to reclaim the momentum and jumpstart his team.

So he ordered a fake punt, a play the Raiders have been practicing for two weeks. Up-back Jon Alston took a direct snap and raced 22 yards around right end for a first down, extending a drive that resulted in a 37-yard Janikowski field goal.

“I thought it was really a pivotal point in the game because it really juiced us back up,” Cable said. “It really put some life back in there. We were kind of teetering, you know, that gray area you don’t want to be in.”
Spoken like a coach who’s undefeated, at least for one week.

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