There is a fine line between genius and madness, and Sunday afternoon Tom Cable left skid marks on both sides of it.
"I felt like momentum was ours," he said, speaking of the pregnant moments leading to the fateful sequence in the Raiders' spirit-crushing 20-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. "I felt we were really into the game on both sides of the ball. And so (I was) looking for a lift."
The search continues. For what Cable did in his quest to energize his team was craft a moment suitable for framing in the Raiders' ever-expanding Hall of Infamy. Which, frankly, was more than any of the 61,379 paying customers had a right to expect when they slapped down real money to watch two of the worst teams the AFC West has ever produced. But we digress.
It was even 3-3 early in the second quarter when Cable first felt the tingling in his brain. The Raiders had driven for a field goal on their first possession, thanks to a couple outside-the-box calls — one a hook-and-lateral which Darren McFadden ran to the Kansas City 14, the other an end-around which Johnnie Lee Higgins advanced to the 7.
The Chiefs had answered with a field goal. Now the Raiders were moving back down the field. When their drive stalled at the Kansas City 25, Cable dispatched the field goal team, with special instructions.
Holder Shane Lechler took the snap at the 33. Instead of spotting the ball on the ground, he flipped it backward between his legs in the direction of kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who was making for the left sideline.
In a perfect world, which is to say when the Raiders practice the play against themselves, the ball hits Janikowski in stride. Whereupon the 250-pound Janikowski circles left end like Gale Sayers on the power sweep, gaining a first down, perhaps scoring a touchdown, maybe even stopping along the way to pull a quarter out of his ear.
"It's something we've worked on for two years," Cable said. "They were lined up exactly as we wanted."
What, with their helmets on backward?
Lechler's flip was behind the lumbering Janikowski. Even if Janikowski had caught it, Kansas City's Maurice Leggett was standing there waiting for him. Instead the ball hit the ground. Leggett scooped it up and ran 67 yards for a touchdown.
"I don't think it was a big deal," Cable said. "Obviously the touchdown was a big deal, but the team continued to play."
It was a ginormous deal on a multitude of levels, starting with the fact it was a 10-point swing in what turned out to be a seven-point game. Then there were the wide-eyed players along the Oakland sideline who watched the disaster unfold.
"We do that in practice all the time," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said, "but I never knew it was a real thing that we were going to attempt."
It led, Cable admitted, to a decision to try to convert a fourth-and-three on the Raiders' next drive rather than attempt a 40-yard field goal. They came up empty when Russell, in what became a recurring theme, overthrew Ronald Curry in the end zone.
Speaking of recurring themes, Cable coached like a guy trying to prove something to someone. In addition to the aforementioned gadget plays and counterintuitive decisions, he called four plays from the Wildcat formation, with McFadden taking a direct snap from center. They gained a total of 5 yards.
"I think you have to have creativity," Cable said. "It certainly gives the players a chance to go out and execute something that's creative and have fun doing it."
Judging by the postgame locker room, the Raiders don't like having fun this way.
Left unanswered was why Cable thought his team — coming off a big win in Denver, in position for a go-ahead field goal, playing a team that had lost 19 of its past 20 games, and allowed a franchise-record 54 points its last time out — needed a lift in the first place.
"This was a winnable game for us," tight end Zach Miller said.
Instead it was an elimination game if ever we've seen one. Not for the Raiders — for their mad genius of a coach.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.