In a dress rehearsal for the start of the first full season under coach Tom Cable, the Oakland Raiders looked an awful lot like the team that has lost the most games in the NFL the past six seasons.
Missed tackles, silly penalties, lack of communication, turnovers, an offense that can't consistently move the ball and boos from the home crowd. About the only positive Cable could find from a 45-7 loss on Saturday to the New Orleans Saints, was that it came in an exhibition game instead of a real one.
"We were making some progress in a number of areas, and then to really kind of revert back, I think everyone's going to take notice of that," Cable said Sunday. "It's ridiculous to have to go through it, but we did."
The Raiders can't blame this exhibition loss on end-of-the-roster scrubs looking overmatched against NFL players. Oakland kept most of its starters in the game until midway through the third quarter, long after the Saints had turned the game over to their backups.
Among the key veterans who made blunders in the game were safety Hiram Eugene, who was beat on Devery Henderson's 40-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter; cornerback Stanford Routt, who was called for two pass interference penalties and was beaten on Robert Meacham's 71-yard catch and run; and Johnnie Lee Higgins, who dropped a third-down pass to end a drive.
"We look like we have in the past _ poor tackling, misaligned, missing some easy reads in terms of protection, just really some fundamental issues that have kind of been our issue in the past," Cable said. "I felt like we were getting away from it, and it showed up again."
The Raiders looked just like the team that has gone 24-72 since going to the Super Bowl in the 2002 season, becoming the only team in NFL history to lose at least 11 games in six straight seasons.
Defensive end Greg Ellis, who spent 11 years in Dallas before joining the Raiders in June, said players have to make a better commitment to the team. He said players "can't stay out all night" and expect to perform on game day.
"This isn't high school or college football," Ellis said. "This is the best of the best in the NFL. So you've got to do those small things that you maybe didn't have to do in college."
Cable agreed that might have been an issue after the team broke camp in Napa and the players were back on their own once the team returned to Oakland.
"The one thing as a coach that you're always leery of is breaking camp is because then they get home, they don't have the curfew, don't have those kind of things, and so as grown men we've got to handle those distractions," Cable said.
While many players said after the game that they hoped to be able to play more than usual in the final exhibition game on Thursday night in Seattle, Cable said he will not alter his plans and will probably use his regulars sparingly.
The problems were evident all over the field. After completing two passes for first downs on the opening two plays, JaMarcus Russell lost a fumble on the next play. The Raiders went three-and-out on their next three drives and had only one more first down and 13 more yards in the half.
Oakland committed 10 penalties for 94 yards, lost three fumbles and had a few dropped passes that ended any chance of finding an offensive rhythm.
The defense might have been even worse than the offense. Oakland allowed touchdowns on the first three drives to the Saints' first-team offense, gave up 536 total yards as New Orleans moved the ball on the ground and in the air with equal ease, and even allowed third-string quarterback Joey Harrington to throw a late touchdown pass.
Oakland has allowed an NFL-worst 399.7 yards per game this preseason, including a particularly galling 211.3 yards per game on the ground.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees said the Raiders looked confused throughout the game and were often figuring out where to line up when the Saints were already snapping the ball. That confusion was also a problem last season, making it an even bigger concern.
"Luckily it's the preseason and we can use this to learn," linebacker Ricky Brown said. "The biggest, the most important thing for a football player is to have a short memory. That being said, you've got to have a short memory, but you have to learn from your mistakes. We did a lot of things wrong today. We have to learn from those mistakes, put it behind us, but still, not be error repeaters."