In the wake of their most devastating loss this season and perhaps several years, the Raiders milled about their locker room, some staring blankly and others vainly trying to submerge their self-loathing, all wondering how it had come to this.
How could they, in a single afternoon, against a team going nowhere and led by a mortal portrayed as myth, surrender everything they claim to want?
How dare they take their home field, before a sellout crowd, with first place in the AFC West at stake, and practically bend over to invite a spanking by the profoundly defective Denver Broncos?
Oakland's 38-24 loss to the Broncos on Sunday at O.co Coliseum cost it sole possession of first place and dropped it back into the bad, old habit of dodging the slightest brush with prosperity.
"We just spit the bit today," said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, Oakland's longest-tenured non-kicker.
They were, once again, mystified by their inability to bury an inferior team. The Broncos, who have struggled to score behind over-hyped quarterback Tim Tebow, rang up 31 points in a second half during which the Raiders effectively disappeared, stunning 58,125 surely anticipating a postgame celebration.
"You have to do your job," defensive tackle and team leader Richard Seymour pleaded. "The things that happened out there today ... it's Football 101."
Blowing the opportunity to move into first place -- Oakland,
"It's us," Kelly said. "And I thought we were past this (expletive)."
To be fair, there had been signs that this Raiders team was somehow more dedicated and resilient than those they went 37-91 over the previous eight seasons. Coach Hue Jackson had instilled a palpable sense of vitality and urgency. They were 4-2 until losing starting quarterback Jason Campbell in an Oct. 16 win over Cleveland.
After so many seasons of losing face and reputation, literally become the worst team in the NFL, Oakland at last seemed on the verge of full recovery.
The past two games, however, throw a flood of skepticism over such designs.
The Oct. 23 loss to Kansas City could be chalked to circumstance. The Raiders replaced Campbell with backup Kyle Boller, who performed as poorly as expected. They replaced Boller with Carson Palmer, who played as if he'd been out of the league since last season -- which he had.
But with a bye week and another few days for Palmer to prepare, and the Broncos coming to the Black Hole, well, the thought of losing was unconscionable.
With running back Michael Bush pounding away (73 first-half yards, on 11 carries) and Palmer getting accustomed to his receivers, Oakland's 17-7 lead over Denver figured to grow after halftime.
But the Broncos owned the second half, using their ground game to pummel the Raiders for 230 of their 298 rushing yards. This is the same Denver team that previously couldn't gain an inch on an empty golf course. Running back Willis McGahee finished with 163 yards, on 20 carries. Tebow barreled for 117, on 12.
"I'm shocked," Kelly said. "Ain't no way I thought that team could put 38 points on us with that quarterback. This hurt more than Buffalo."
Buffalo was the only real egg the healthy Raiders laid this season, allowing 35 points and blowing a 17-point halftime lead. That was in September, though. It was on the road. And the Bills are considerably more formidable than the Broncos.
This debacle was at home, with the Raiders and their fans knowing Kansas City had lost and San Diego almost certainly would. An Oakland win meant first place in November for the first time since 2002.
And the Raiders gagged it away, as they have so often in years gone by.
"They looked like a team, in my opinion, that was a lot hungrier in the second half than we were," Jackson said. "So I take responsibility for that."
Yet the Raiders insisted the coaching staff had fully prepared them for everything they saw. There were no surprises from Denver, just a sound thrashing.
It was if the Raiders had studied well and knew the answers to the easiest test they'll receive all season -- only to fail to enter those answers. Infuriating, was how running back Marcel Reece described it.
"Until we learn," Jackson said, "we'll be sitting here feeling like this." With humiliation on their faces and glass in the pit of their stomachs, earned the hard way and likely to stay awhile.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.