It was a season of regression or depression, depending on the vantage point.
But whether on the field or in the stands, the impression was the same: The Raiders took a big step back in 2012.
The team completed its dismal season in San Diego on Sunday, putting up a game fight but eventually falling 24-21 to the lowly Chargers.
Not that the game had any particular meaning. The Raiders finished the season with four wins against 12 losses, so the finale was merely the last chapter of a lousy book. After falling from playoff contender to also-ran, the team embarks on an offseason filled with questions, hoping to rebuild a losing culture once defined by winning.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this. After Raiders owner and godfather Al Davis died, the team was supposed to rebuild with new leadership and better talent.
New owner Mark Davis brought in general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen to steer. They were severely hampered in terms of player acquisition. So, the team slipped.
But the ax is unlikely to fall after only one season. Odds are that Davis the Younger will retain his top two hires, but the assistant coaches and the roster will undergo major overhauls.
Once again, changing the culture will be paramount. The Raiders have been beating themselves for far too long.
Allen summarized the team's predicament before this ill-fated season, telling the media: "I think the biggest challenge is that because the leadership has been the way it's been done for so long, people are used to doing things one way. I think the biggest challenge is just getting people within the organization to open up the thought process to doing things another way."
After Sunday's rain-drenched game - in which Al Davis' last pet project, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, actually played quite well in his first start - Allen was asked whether he succeeded in changing the culture this season, despite outward appearances.
"I think we've made progress in that regard," Allen said. "I don't think we're the finished product yet. We need to get the right people."
The head coach's short, bland answer spoke volumes.
Both Allen and McKenzie have failed to emerge this season as convincing leaders, and communication has played a role. They both have the brains and the background to succeed at this level, but neither inspires great confidence on a personal level. Neither is a fire-and-brimstone manager, choosing instead to speak softly and work his philosophies behind the scenes. That very well might work, but it's not a common path to success in the NFL.
The legends of the game command a room and speak forcefully about their philosophies and their vision. Both McKenzie and Allen could stand to improve in that area. And there's no reason they can't.
More important, of course, is what the coach said about personnel. The Raiders need to get the right people in the room. People who "love football" and who are "team first," as Allen put it Sunday night.
First on the list of examples should be running back Darren McFadden, who set a fabulous tone for the future. In what amounted to a meaningless game in San Diego, he ran hard from the start. Although he gained only 57 yards, he set the bar for effort, churning out difficult yards in the muck and mire. Injuries are the man's only obstacle, and they have proven formidable. But he's the best player on the team, and that's where the new Raiders must start.
On defense, linebacker Philip Wheeler should be singled out for praise. He finished the season strongly, providing the counterbalance to Rolando McClain, a first-round washout who played his way off the team. Wheeler can be the foundation for the defense.
Elsewhere, the team is still populated by many of Al Davis' speed merchants, players like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore, and even Pryor. McKenzie and Allen need to make it clear whether they agree with the former owner's love of speed or not. In an interview earlier this year, I asked the GM if he had the same love for the stopwatch. He sidestepped a bit, but made it clear that speed wasn't his primary metric when evaluating players.
If that's the case, they should clear the decks of one-dimensional players. They likely will get only one more year to turn around this franchise, so they might as well discard any sentimentality for Al's old favorites.
And they'll be repopulating the roster with a small draft class yet again. Because of terrible trades in the past, the Raiders will be without a second-round pick (traded for quarterback Carson Palmer) and a fifth-round pick (traded for linebacker Aaron Curry) this spring. So, it's time for the Raiders' leaders to make this team their own. (Suggestion: Draft some offensive linemen.)
One of the Raiders with tenure is safety Matt Giordano, who has been around the NFL for eight seasons. He's also one of the Raiders who played hard until the last snap of a losing season. Asked whether the team was moving in the right direction, or whether Allen had the confidence of the troops, he didn't hesitate.
"We're starting to build something here," said Giordano, who will be a free agent. "Just look at this last game here. It's basically a meaningless game, but we fought to the end. The locker room is behind D.A. and Reggie. Change is hard, but change is good. And I want to be part of that change."
We'll see how it goes for Giordano, but there's no question that change is coming, yet again.
This time, McKenzie and Allen need to get it right. Otherwise, Mark Davis will be making the changes.