OAKLAND -- They've crossed their fingers or clutched their good-luck charms. They've done rain dances and dropped to their knees, hoping and wishing and praying.

The Raiders and their fans have resorted to all manner of tricks in their quest to keep running back Darren McFadden healthy and, thus, give their team a realistic chance to sniff the aroma of success.

These efforts haven't helped in the past, didn't help Sunday and, realistically, won't ever keep the man on the field.

Expect, then, for McFadden's NFL career to follow the same demoralizing script: terrific running back, cannot avoid the kind of injuries that sabotage his best intentions.

On Sunday, with the Raiders holding a 14-3 lead over Washington, McFadden limped into the Coliseum locker room on a cranky hamstring in the second quarter. Though he returned briefly, unsuccessfully, Oakland never scored again and wound up eating a 24-14 loss to a previously winless team.

The Raiders in the second half were a defanged version of the team that was a popular preseason choice as the worst in the NFL. They were without starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, deactivated as a precaution while he recovers from a concussion sustained last week. They were without starting fullback Marcel Reece, who in the second half limped off with a knee injury that appears more serious than McFadden's hamstring.


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"That's our three most explosive players," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "Things are ... different without them."

Things were downright dreadful, as they tend to be when DMC is not on the field. He is as unique among his teammates for his ability to break the long run and catch the long pass downfield as he is for the inability to stay intact.

"He's got such great speed; that and his vision set him apart," Olson said.

"From a run-game standpoint, he's kind of got the ability to hit the home run ball," coach Dennis Allen said. "Our other runners are a little bit more physical type runners, whereas Darren's got a little bit more burst to break off the long run."

Yes, he has -- but mostly before this season. McFadden's numbers thus far in 2013, aside from the team's lone win over woeful Jacksonville, have been underwhelming.

The present is not very encouraging, and the past is a moving collage of dazzling runs and painful absences. This is DMC's sixth season in Oakland and he has yet to play a full schedule, having been consistently sidelined by various lower body ailments.

With injuries to his toe (2008, three games), his knee ('09, four games), his hamstring/toe ('10, three games), his foot ('11, nine games) and his ankle ('12, four games), McFadden had missed 23 of 80 games entering 2013.

And now he's back in the trainer's room. He hates it, hates being unable to play. And he detests the label that he's physically fragile.

But the label sticks for a reason. The numbers don't lie. And there is no reason to expect them to change, even if McFadden is only 26.

That's why the Raiders have to consider throwing up their hands. DMC is in the final year of his $60 million rookie contract. He'll get a new deal somewhere, but general manager Reggie McKenzie is being very judicious in sketching out the future.

The smart money says the Raiders won't offer McFadden premium money and most likely will allow him to test the market. And if he recovers and returns before the Oct. 29 trade deadline, it's not inconceivable that the Raiders shop him.

McKenzie has told me many times before that he believes running backs can be found in any draft, that only Hall of Fame caliber runners are worthy of long-term commitment. Left unsaid -- but implicit -- was that most backs are replaceable and even the exceptional ones must also be durable.

McFadden clearly flunks the durability test.

He was, with good reason, Oakland's preseason MVP. He's the only man on the offensive unit to ever be ranked among the NFL Network's coveted Top 100, listed at No. 60 last season.

But McFadden is one of the league's notable hypothetical figures: If he can stay healthy for a full season, Oakland has a chance to sustain its offense.

He can't.

So here the Raiders are, once again, facing the annual expected heartbreak. If the days are getting shorter and the leaves are turning brown and the air is starting to cool, McFadden will set up camp in the trainer's room.

It's tradition, with no reason to expect change.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.