ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen is a realist. But he’s also an optimist.
Sure, he subscribes to the theory that you are what your record says you are, and there’s no getting around that for the coach of a 4-9 team that, with losses to close the season against the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, will equal last season’s record of 4-12.
Yet, Allen insists this year’s team is, well, different from the one he ran in 2012 as a rookie coach. One that has less quit in it. And there’s some truth to that, too.
So what can the Raiders glean from these final three games, against three teams vying for postseason spots?
“Well, we’ve got three games against division opponents, so it will be a great opportunity for us to measure ourselves up against the teams that are in our division,” Allen said. “Those are the teams, that if we aspire to be a playoff team, those are the teams that we’ve got to be able to beat.
“So, I’ll look for [our players] to rise up to the challenge and try to win these football games. That’s what we’re trying to do. And our guys will respond. They’ll come back.”
The likes of running back Rashad Jennings and free safety Charles Woodson have said there are few, if any, players in the locker room that would check out down the stretch. Neither was in Oakland a year ago, though, as was receiver Rod Streater.
“As a team, we’re right there,” Streater told reporters on Monday. “Last year, that wasn’t the case. I feel like everyone is all in. They believe from the start we can win these games. The attitude is much different.”
Indeed, last season, the team seemed to check out in November, in the midst of a six-game losing streak, before refocusing in December. Even if the victories did not follow suit.
And even as down as the locker room was in New Jersey following the Raiders’ latest defensive meltdown – the unit allowed a last-minute, game-deciding score to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 24, blew a 21-7 lead to the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day and made heretofore struggling New York Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith look “sort of great,” Woodson said -- a play here or there would have flipped the script, as well as the scoreboard.
“There is obviously a lot of shoulda, woulda, couldas that you can look at,” Allen acknowledged. “I think there are a lot of areas that this football team has improved from where it was a year ago.
“We’ve been a lot more competitive in just about every football game. We’ve been in a lot of games. The frustrating thing is to give yourself those opportunities and not be able to take advantage of them. So, that’s something that we’ve got to continue to look at and that’s something that we got to continue to get better at. Our guys are continuing to fight and scratch and claw and trying to do everything they can. They put their heart and soul into everything they do. We just haven’t got the outcomes that we’re looking for.”