OAKLAND Where has all the love gone? That Raiders feel-good karma? Heck, what happened to that winning season? Darren McFadden kicking off the early rush with his explosive, record-setting bursts. Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski doing what they do. Jason Campbell and then Carson Palmer introducing talented rookie wideout Denarius Moore to the Black Hole.
And Hue Jackson. Can't forget bold, brassy Hue Jackson. In the spirit of the late Al Davis, the Raiders rookie coach vowed a Raiders return to prominence, not just relevance, though he must have been peeking ahead at a 2012 calendar.
"I feel like we've improved," veteran Richard Seymour said after Sunday's stunning loss to the Detroit Lions at O.co Coliseum, "but you have to prove it, and we're not."
Instead of moving into a tie atop the AFC West with the Denver Broncos, the Raiders lost their third straight game, fell to 7-7 and into a division tie with the San Diego Chargers, doing so in a manner that sapped whatever swagger remained after consecutive blowout road losses.
This was no ordinary home defeat, even by inept recent Raiders standards. Ndamukong Suh yes, that guy blocked Janikowski's 65-yard field-goal attempt with four seconds remaining, punctuating a collapse that transformed the Coliseum into a virtual mausoleum.
Someone, somewhere, was still breathing. But shock, the mood was pure shock. The game was there to be grabbed despite drops by wide receivers Chaz Schillens and Darrius Heyward-Bey, along with assorted other mistakes: A too-robust touchdown celebration that earned Aaron Curry a penalty flag. Two holding and two pass interference calls against Stanford Routt. A strip of Heyward-Bey, Jackson's unsuccessful gamble on a fourth-and-one, Palmer's early struggles.
"We understand where we are," Palmer said. "We desperately needed this win. It'd be easy to go in the tank and just say, 'Well, we blew our opportunity.' But we've got two games left. Who knows what happens with the other teams?"
So maybe it all works out. Maybe the Raiders recover and catch a few breaks, maybe even a few more passes. But if Sunday's loss proves to be the defeat that defines a season, the lasting memory will be this: the failure to put the brakes on Detroit with just over two minutes remaining.
That was the moment, the potentially crushing sequence. With the Raiders leading 27-21 and closing in on an apparent victory, Matthew Stafford engineered a 98-yard drive that began with an incompletion and ended with Calvin Johnson scampering into the end zone.
In barely more than a minute, Stafford, who during the previous possession found Titus Young with another scoring strike, exposed a Raiders defense that for the most part had performed impressively. Yet on the pivotal play of the decisive drive a 48-yard throw that was underthrown and hung in the air neither linebacker Rolando McClain nor safety Jerome Boyd challenged the 6-foot-5 wideout as he reached for the ball.
"Just go up and get it," a disconsolate Boyd said later. "Kansas City next week. Kansas City next week."
Added McClain, angrily, "I got nothing to say."
Jackson, typically, wasn't nearly as measured. The coach denied that the defensive miscue was "no scheme issue." He proclaimed himself as better than a ".500 coach" and admitted that he didn't envision a 7-7 record with two games left. Not after the Raiders' robust start, the early sellout crowds, the acquisition of Palmer, and the exceptional start by McFadden, who played a mere six games before being sidelined because of recurring foot problems.
"I'm very frustrated, very disappointed in the ability to finish games," said Jackson, "but this is something that's been nipping at us all year. We needed to go win a game and put ourselves right back to where we needed to be. And that starts with me and down to our players."
Of course, the Chiefs might have a say in all this, as well as the Chargers. That season finale on New Year's Day is gaining significance by the week.