When Oakland Raiders coach Hue Jackson stands on the west sideline of the O.co Coliseum on Sunday afternoon with his team's season hanging in the balance, it's a virtual certainty that he'll be infuriated on a relentless basis. The Raiders, who'll likely eclipse the NFL's single-season penalty record in their season finale against the San Diego Chargers, are probably the league's most mistake-prone team.
It's enough to make a coach, in Jackson's words, want to "scream, kill somebody, go bananas." Yet he hasn't – and he vows he won't – because "you just have to remember you are the face of the team."
This is where the former face of the Raiders comes in: One reason Jackson has remained calm through all the drama of his rookie season is because the late Al Davis assured him everything will ultimately be OK.
If that sounds corny, convenient and contrived, Jackson doesn't care. He knows what Davis – the owner who gave him his first head-coaching opportunity – told him back on the evening of Oct. 6, and he has taken the words to heart during times of stress and uncertainty.
"It was after practice, the day before we went to Houston [to face the Texans on Oct. 9], and I was in my office when we talked on the phone, like we did just about every day," Jackson recalled. "The man told me, 'Hue, you're doing a good job. This thing is hard. You've just got to stick to it. We'll win it in the end.'
"We didn't play as well as we could have [the previous Sunday] vs. New England. I don't know if he felt I was discouraged, or if he just wanted to tell me something. Who knows what he knew at that time about the condition he was in? I just know he wanted me to know, 'We'll win it in the end.' "
Two days later, the 82-year-old Davis died of congestive heart failure, leaving Jackson as the sudden standard-bearer of the franchise the iconic Hall of Famer had spent decades shaping. The season's early results had been quite promising, and when Oakland pulled out a 25-20 victory over the Texans on a last-play, end-zone interception by Michael Huff – a play, it turned out, on which the Raiders eerily had only 10 men on the field – there was a strong scent of destiny in the air.
Yet if fate has truly smiled upon the 2011 Raiders, she has a macabre sense of humor. From quarterback Jason Campbell's season-ending collarbone fracture (which led to Jackson's bold trade with the Cincinnati Bengals for Carson Palmer), to the foot injury that shelved star halfback Darren McFadden, to the recent three-game losing streak that allowed the Denver Broncos to seize control of the AFC West, Jackson's team has faced a steady succession of speed bumps.
[ Playoff picture: Raiders need a win and some help ]
Many of the Raiders' wounds have also been self-inflicted. For all of the good things Jackson has done as a rookie head coach – including his efforts to effect an organizational attitude change after eight consecutive non-winning seasons and his impressive performances as a game-planner and play-caller – he has failed to bring discipline to a team known for its deficiencies in that regard.
Typically among the league's leaders in penalties, the 2011 Raiders have taken on-field malfeasance to a new level. With 155 penalties for 1,293 yards, Oakland almost certainly will eclipse the dark marks set by the 1998 Kansas City Chiefs (158 for 1,304).
Last Saturday in Kansas City, where the Raiders pulled out a 16-13 overtime victory, they were flagged 15 times – with all of the infractions occurring by the second minute of the fourth quarter.
Though tempted to rail at the officials – at the very least, a coach might wonder if there's a subconscious awareness of the Raiders' reputation and an associated hypervigilance when it comes to enforcement – and, certainly, at the offending players, Jackson kept his cool.
"What can I do?" Jackson asked in reference to the calls with which he disagrees. "I can't take my team off the field."
When I spoke to him nearly two hours after the game, as he was riding the team bus to the Kansas City airport, Jackson conceded that he'd been tempted to throw a sideline tantrum. But, he said, "I can't – because this team's gonna follow my lead. I know that it's hard to keep that faith about yourself. When I was an assistant, I could go nuts out there. Now it's a bad idea. If I come unglued, my whole team's gonna come unglued 'cause I know I've got some guys like that."
I asked Jackson about the gutsy and brilliantly sold fake field goal that he called with the score tied at 3-3 midway through the second quarter. Punter Shane Lechler, the holder on kicks, took the snap and, while still on his knees, flipped a shovel pass to tight end Brandon Myers, who slipped around the right side of the formation and rambled 36 yards for a touchdown. At least it would have been a touchdown had the Raiders gotten the snap off in time. Instead, a delay of game penalty nullified the play, effectively killing the ruse for the foreseeable future and forcing Sebastian Janikowski's 59-yard field goal attempt, which missed after hitting the crossbar.
"That's the kind of [expletive] that [expletive] me off about our guys," Jackson said. "You've got a chance to do some big things and you can't even pay attention to the clock? I can't do everything; I'm trying but I can't. You just hope somebody notices and calls timeout."
I can see Jackson getting criticized for such a comment. That happens a lot, especially in the Bay Area, where his brand of unvarnished brashness has translated less seamlessly than that of his fellow rookie coach across the bridge, Jim Harbaugh. People have accused Jackson of being a self-involved grandstander who embellishes conversations with Davis; of being a reckless, power-mad megalomaniac who set back the franchise with the Palmer trade; of being an overmatched opportunist and a phony headed for a fall.
If any of that is true, count me as a sucker because I'm buying what Jackson is selling. As much as Davis and I almost never saw eye to eye, I believe we were like-minded on this particular assertion: Jackson, rather than former coach Tom Cable, was the driving force (as a first-year offensive coordinator) behind the team's dramatic improvement in 2010 and is a potential star in the coaching ranks. And when I sat with Jackson this summer and listened to him talk about changing the mentality of a franchise and a fan base – with a complete and utter willingness to throw himself out there as a target for the cynics – I bought in, even predicting that Oakland would play in the AFC championship game.
For that to have a chance of happening, the Raiders (8-7) must beat the Chargers on Sunday and hope for help. If the Broncos (8-7) lose to the Chiefs, Oakland will win the AFC West and host a first-round playoff game. Failing that, the Raiders would need the Bengals to lose to the Baltimore Ravens, and either the New York Jets to defeat the Miami Dolphins or the Tennessee Titans to lose to the Houston Texans, to sneak in as a wild-card team.
When I asked Jackson about those various scenarios last Saturday, he said: "I'm not gonna think about 'em. All I want to do is win. We've been losing at home, on our turf. There are so many things I'm disappointed about. That's one of them – that we're not taking care of business at home."
The conversation turned to Davis, and Jackson became emotional. If he's putting on an act, the coach should consider hiring an agent and making a go in Hollywood because he sure appears to be sincere about his affection for the man who trusted him to win it in the end.
"Obviously, I miss Coach Davis like you wouldn't believe," he said. "I do [talk to him]. I have hard days sometimes, Mike. There are some days I miss him more than others. Some days I wish he could come back and cuss me out. That's how much I miss him – I'd take that.
"But it's OK. I understand he will be with me as long as I have this job. He will always be with me."
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Tim Tebow will clean up his game and pull out a close victory over Kyle Orton and the Chiefs to give the Broncos the AFC West title. … Victories by the Jets (over the Dolphins), Texans (over the Titans) and Ravens (over the Bengals) will open the postseason door for the Raiders, and they'll sneak through by beating the Chargers … Tony Romo will come up huge in a big game and the Cowboys will upset the Giants to win the NFC East on Sunday night.
And remember, you can find all of my picks here and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at ridewithsilver.com. I'd like you to take a hard look at the respective records of myself and colleague Jason Cole, because when you watch the corresponding Locks of the Week segment and learn that he is two games ahead going into the final Sunday, you will believe that he is on the verge of claiming an in-house championship. He isn't. I am the Y! Sports Picks King, even if I did pick the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Oakland, where I may see a) The Raiders celebrate a return to the postseason for the first time in nine years; b) Norv Turner's final game as Chargers coach; c) A.J. Smith's final game as Chargers GM; d) a lot of really rowdy people in costume; e) all of the above. I'll be dressed as a grateful dude who didn't have to get on an airplane this weekend, and I'll be looking sharp. After all, I'm not a dorky sportswriter – I just play one on the Internet.
LIES, LIES, LIES
1) Chastened by his bosses at Fox for calling Jon Gruden a "blowhard," former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira issued an apology, saying, "Upon further review, Gruden is actually a windbag."
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
My 12-year-old son, as I told you last Friday, played for a championship as a fantasy football rookie, and getting to watch games with him under that backdrop was a total treat. Put it this way – when Victor Cruz turned a short catch into a 99-yard touchdown against the Jets, our family room looked a lot like this. And when I thanked Yahoo! Sports guru Brad Evans for his spot-on advice, he made a far more disturbing prediction: "Badass. You do realize it's a gateway drug? He'll be calling a bookie before you know it."
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Two NFL players who are retiring after this season – Al Harris, a.k.a. "(Thirty One) The Dirty One," and Jason Taylor, one of the best defenders of his era. Harris, as I've told you before, has been my daughter's favorite player for years, and I shared her enthusiasm. He's a thoughtful guy who was a candid interview and a very good cornerback for a long time. As for Taylor, we go way back, and it has been a pleasure to watch him grow into his stardom while becoming an accomplished dancer and mature leader, on and off the field. And when I think about Taylor, I inevitably think of his longtime agent, Gary Wichard, who died last March. Wichard was one of my favorite people in football, and a terrific advocate for his clients, and I miss him a lot. So I guess that makes three shots, as well as the one I'm pouring out in Wichard's memory.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
Looking for their second conference title in three seasons, Mike Montgomery's Bears won their Pac-12 opener Thursday night at Haas Pavilion, hanging on for a 53-49 victory over USC. Jorge Gutierrez (13 points), Allen Crabbe (12) and Harper Kamp (12) provided the bulk of the offense for Cal, which improved to 11-3 on the season and hosts UCLA on Saturday. Alas, down in Westwood, the UCLA women upset Lindsay Gottlieb's Bears by a 60-55 score, despite Gennifer Brandon's 17 points and 11 rebounds. Cal (9-4) will try to shake it off and take down the Trojans on Saturday.
As for Wednesday's 21-10, Holiday Bowl defeat to the Texas Longhorns – well, what stood out for me about the debacle? Was it the five turnovers? Was it the sight of Cal quarterback Zach Maynard laughing on the sideline with 20 seconds remaining? Was it that warm postgame embrace between Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Texas counterpart Mack Brown? Yeah, it was all of that and more. I'll get over it soon and get fired up for a stellar 2012 campaign – but, for what it's worth, I'm still not over '04, and won't be until we smell Roses. That's my unresolved bitterness, and I'm sticking to it.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
If you think about it, Orton's return to Denver – and the possibility that he can ruin the season of the team that benched and released him – is kind of trippy. In keeping with that psychedelic theme, here's my mind-altering, mood-enhancing send-up of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High," written by Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and Gene Clark and sung by the Chiefs' revenge-minded signal-caller.
Hey Mile High – it's good to be back
It's your long-lost dissed quarterback
Billboards above that say "Play Tebow"
Are things of the past as we know
Nowhere is where my team is bound
But is yours afraid of losing its ground?
Big cow town, known for its sound
But quiet if I throw touchdowns
Tebow's team huddled in tight
Some laughing some feeling uptight
Late rallies and peaks and valleys
Ghost returns and turns out the lights
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- Hue Jackson