It was exactly a year ago that the Raiders spent Thanksgiving Day in the midst of a three-game win streak throughout which they sat atop the AFC West.

Quarterback Carson Palmer, who had been plucked off the inactive list in October, was finding his timing and rounding into shape.

The field leader, Hue Jackson, was in the Coach of the Year conversation, even though a certain coach across the Bay was the front-runner.

And one year later, it's all gone.

Oakland has fallen so far, so fast, nobody is better off. Not the Raiders, not Palmer, certainly not Jackson. Nobody has the look of a winner.

Jackson, who was fired by new general manager Reggie McKenzie, is an assistant in Cincinnati. Palmer is straining under the weight of turnovers committed while trying to carry the burden of an abysmal offense. And an Oakland team that needed an epic collapse to finish 2011 in a three-way tie for first place in the division -- missing the playoffs by one play -- is one of the five worst in the NFL.

Last November seems so long ago that even the memories are fuzzy. Most of the chatter about the 2012 Raiders implies the roster is rudderless and threadbare, failing mostly because the team lacks talent and depth. There are kernels of truth to that.


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Following the evidence leads to a question: How did the '11 Raiders, with mostly the same starting cast, manage to reach first place in the division at this time last year?

With the Raiders making a trip to Cincinnati this weekend, I made several attempts to obtain answers from Jackson. Maybe he would be willing to explain what was going right last November, if not what he thinks might be wrong this season. Maybe he could shed some light, perhaps offer pointers to Dennis Allen, his replacement in Oakland.

After several conversations and text messages, Jackson concluded it would not be in his best interest to share his opinions about the Raiders -- or about his chances at the Cal coaching job. Though it is clear that being dismissed by the Raiders still stings, Jackson was reluctant to address the team's myriad issues.

"I think I will pass on making a comment at this point," Jackson said via text message. "I think it's best for me to say as little as possible."

Jackson did, however, point out that the current state of the Raiders helps any case he might wish to state.

They've lost seven of 10 this season and were not really competitive in the last three losses, which have come in succession. McKenzie, whose first major move was firing Jackson, is in the early stages of a comprehensive rebuilding of the organization. Allen, hired from Denver, is 10 games into the task of proving he's the man to fix the franchise.

But, really, how much rebuilding and fixing should be necessary for a team that was so close to the playoffs?

It figured the Raiders might be better equipped to improve this season than last.

Running back Darren McFadden had developed into a star, though plagued by injury. Darrius Heyward-Bey, a first-round vanity project of late former owner Al Davis, emerged from Bustville to become a functional wide receiver. Fellow wideout Denarius Moore flashed tremendous promise.

Unlike 2011, this team would have a full offseason program and training camp, with Palmer participating throughout.

All the 2011 Raiders needed to reach the playoffs was an ordinary defense -- only Buffalo in the AFC allowed more points -- and surely in 2012 they could be at least ordinary under former defensive coordinator Allen.

But Oakland's defense has been inconsistent against the run and worse against the pass. The improvement that seemed apparent in mid-October has dissolved into the same familiar rut of ineptitude seen last season and so many seasons before.

Two years after Jackson was installed as offensive coordinator and solved Oakland's long-standing problem scoring points, that problem is back with a vengeance. The unit is a mess. Palmer is lost, so is Moore. McFadden was ineffective before sustaining an injury two weeks ago. DHB once again looks like a backup.

No doubt Jackson, whose coaching career was upended, believes the Raiders could have avoided these relapses had he returned and that everyone could have been satisfied.

The perception of Jackson as audacious and swaggering is understandably reinforced by his unwavering self-confidence. Is it possible he had reason to feel good about what he was doing?

They were winning behind a quarterback, Jason Campbell, few believed in before he sustained an injury, winning despite a defense coached by Chuck Bresnahan, with strict oversight from Al Davis before he died.

Jackson did acknowledge the deepest cut was not having the opportunity to assemble a defensive staff. He insists his candid end-of-season comments about making sweeping changes were spoken not as a megalomaniac GM but as a coach finally in position to identify and hire assistants of his choosing.

We know this: In the 17 years since returning to Oakland the Raiders have employed 10 head coaches, two of whom made impact that was immediate and positive. Jon Gruden was traded after four seasons, none of which resulted in a losing record. Jackson was fired after one 8-8 season.

Gruden never threw stones, and Jackson is unwilling to launch his own.

But once again, the evidence reveals a franchise scrambling for answers and sinking in the wake of change.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at twitter.com/1montepoole.