KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Raiders returned to relevancy this season, and coach Tom Cable finally won me over in the process.
So I paid him my respects after Sunday's season-ending 31-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
We shook hands in the locker room, reviewed this 8-8 season and discussed his uncertain fate.
"Hopefully I get another chance," Cable said.
If not, the Raiders risk breaking down what they've built up since he took over for an insubordinate Lane Kiffin four games into the 2008 season.
If Cable is not retained, it wouldn't be a shock, considering Al Davis' discontent over an eight-season playoff drought.
But Davis has witnessed enough lousy football since 2003 to know the Raiders are heading in the right direction. Cable steered them onto that course.
Cable's odds on returning deserve to be better than 50-50, a ratio he glumly estimated. Only Davis knows what comes next, although an ESPN report before Sunday's finale said it was "unlikely" Cable would stick.
So why should a coach with a 17-27 record keep his job? Because of games like Sunday's, when the Raiders rallied after sputtering through the first quarter and trailing 3-0.
"Things didn't go our way early in the game. It shows just how far our team has come this year," quarterback Jason Campbell said. "No one started fussing or getting upset. Everyone tried to keep their focus and just work through it."
The Raiders stuck to Cable's staunch belief in running the ball and playing physical, turnover-inducing defense.
While Campbell hailed his teammates' resolve, he stopped short of endorsing Cable's return. That isn't surprising. Campbell couldn't secure his own job until Bruce Gradkowski's shoulder went kaput Nov. 28.
"This is a business decision," Campbell replied when asked if players want Cable back. "You never get caught up in all of it. I've been through a lot before. I'm just glad we finished the season off strong, and we'll see what happens."
What we did see this season was Campbell develop a comfortable rapport with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, the long-rumored candidate to unseat Cable.
Jackson's stock jumped this season. But he better not think other teams' interest in him as a possible coach will force Davis' hand to promote him. Nobody tells Davis how to run his beloved franchise.
Nor should Campbell carry enough clout to name his favored coach. Campbell wasn't here for the past years of misery. He arrived in an April trade from the Washington Redskins, and he had mixed results throughout this season.
But Campbell will be back next season, and the Raiders' best chance to continue this upward swing is to maintain long-lost continuity at the head-coach spot.
Cable is the Raiders' best option, unless Davis enters the pricey Jim Harbaugh Derby and lures the former Raiders assistant out of Stanford.
Cable opened his postgame news conference Sunday by proudly declaring: "We're not losers anymore." It's not the ideal motto you'd slap on the side of an AC Transit bus. But it's taken eight seasons to say that again.
A better slogan came later, when Cable glowed about his offensive line's ability to spring Michael Bush for 137 yards rushing in place of an injured Darren McFadden.
"Those guys up front crunched them all day," Cable said.
The Raiders have an incredibly young offensive corps, a revamped defense and a lot of momentum thanks to this 8-8 resurrection. They have other questions aside from the coaching quandary.
How much will they spend to bring back Pro Bowl defenders Nnamdi Asomugha and Richard Seymour? How reluctant are they to add a veteran wide receiver who would complement a way-too-raw and inconsistent unit? Why can't defensive backs Stanford Routt and Michael Huff make more plays like they did Sunday, each intercepting a pass?
Seconds before Routt returned his interception for a touchdown, the Raiders led 24-10 and the Chiefs' radio broadcast brought in former coach Marty Schottenheimer for his analysis.
"I know these are not the Raiders team of old, when I would say to my team on the sideline, 'We got them right where we want them,' " said Schottenheimer, who was honored at halftime for his induction into the Chiefs Hall of Fame.
The Raiders are on the right track. Will that save Cable's job? It might not. But it should.
That is as strong a case as I can make for him, a case I never thought I would make.