ALAMEDA, Calif. It's difficult to choose the most surprising aspect of the Oakland Raiders' predicament just seven games after losing in the Super Bowl.
Perhaps it's the five-game deficit in the AFC West, a division won by the Raiders the last three years. Maybe it's the improbable quarterback controversy pitting a league MVP against a backup with 69 yards passing in his career before Monday night.
Or perhaps the complete collapse of Oakland's once-powerful offense is the most remarkable aspect of what might soon be a lost season for a team that seems to be losing faith in its entire structure.
And this nightmare keeps getting worse for coach Bill Callahan and the Raiders (2-5), who limped to their bye week with three straight losses and several injured regulars, including NFL MVP Rich Gannon.
''I still believe that the team has the necessary character and conviction to win,'' Callahan said Tuesday. ''I'm not going to try to spin this or make any excuses for where we're at. It is what it is, and we'll work extremely hard through the bye week.''
The Raiders will get the weekend off before beginning preparations for a trip to Detroit. Oakland lost on the road to Chicago and Cleveland before Monday night's 17-10 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even Gannon, Oakland's record-setting quarterback, hasn't emerged unscathed from the Raiders' struggles. After Gannon went down with a shoulder injury against the Chiefs, backup Marques Tuiasosopo nearly led Oakland to a comeback in the fourth quarter.
''He came in and gave us a boost, like the sixth man off the bench in basketball,'' Callahan said. ''I thought he gave us that type of spark. He was up to the challenge. I thought he met it very well.''
And instead of giving a vote of confidence to Gannon, Callahan declined to guarantee the 37-year-old's job security even if his bruised shoulder turns out to be a minor injury.
It's an amazing development and a good measure of the Raiders' shock and disappointment in their season so far that Callahan even would consider a change.
''I'm going to look at everything very closely as we progress,'' Callahan said.
Oakland already has fallen five games behind the unbeaten Chiefs (7-0) in the standings, and the second-place Broncos (5-2) are three games ahead. The Raiders have lost to both, putting them at a further disadvantage in the playoff race.
The Raiders' roster, which mixes a large group of durable veterans with a number of untested youngsters taking key roles, hasn't meshed nearly as well as it did last season, when Oakland won 11 games and roared through the playoffs before losing to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.
''Last season, everything seemed like it came together at the perfect time,'' All-Pro safety Rod Woodson said. ''This year, it's a mirror image. Everything seems like it's coming apart, and just when we get one thing fixed, another thing goes wrong.''
Though Callahan mostly maintained his usual upbeat demeanor Tuesday, he ripped his running backs for poor pass-blocking and criticized his kick-return units after another poor special-teams performance.
''We're like a sieve up front,'' Callahan said. ''I don't think we've made a block now in two weeks. There's guys running free. We've got a guy (Ronney Jenkins) back there who led the league in running the ball back. Right now, I wouldn't want to be back there, I know that.''
While the offense floundered and the special teams snoozed, an impressive game by Oakland's defense was all but lost in the frustration of Monday night's defeat. The Raiders limited Kansas City's powerful offense to 319 total yards just 126 after halftime, when the Chiefs' only score resulted from Phillip Buchanon's muffed punt return deep in Oakland territory.
The defense, which struggled earlier in the year, provided one ray of hope in a season that seems to get darker each week.
''You want to be optimistic that it's never too late,'' Raiders safety Anthony Dorsett said. ''You just hope it's not too late.''
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