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Football player Darren McFadden

Raiders switch quarterbacks, stave off Rams 16-14

on September 20, 2010

It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the Raiders added their names to the win column with the help of an unexpected member of the team, defeating the Rams Sunday afternoon in a closely-contested 16-14 clash.

Following last week’s embarrassing 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans, which braced fans for yet another grim season, the Raiders managed to regroup for their first victory of the fall. It’s the way they produced it that will have people talking, though, as Raiders third-year head coach Tom Cable chose at the beginning of the second half to bench his starting quarterback, Jason Campbell, in favor of Bruce Gradkowski.

Football player Michael Clayton

Rams wide receiver Michael Clayton pulled in a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. At first called an incomplete pass, the catch was later reviewed and confirmed. Photo by Roberto Daza

“We felt like we needed to change it up a bit,” said Cable after the game. “My job is to win games, and do whatever it takes to do that. Today was about winning this game, and what did it take to do that, and that was the right choice obviously.”

The Raiders were trailing the Rams 7-3, after allowing Rams’ running back Steven Jackson free reign with 101 all-purpose yards—rushing and receiving—in the first half. In the hopes of giving “a lift” to the sputtering offense, as Cable put it, the Raiders coach contemplated potential adjustments as he and the team headed into the locker room. There he made the very difficult decision to sit Campbell, his most prized off-season acquisition, as well as the player owner Al Davis likened to Raiders two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Jim Plunkett, during the preseason.

“Of course it’s disappointing,” Campbell said after the game. “But at the same time, I didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. It’s not about me, it’s about the team. And the team did what they had to to win the game.”

The crowd backed the switch, approvingly booming “BRRUUUUCE” for Bruce Gradkowski, the backup quarterback they came to know and love after he replaced last year’s starter and led the team to three of its five wins late last season. Right out of the gates, the Raiders marched the ball from their own 18-yard line down the field during their first possession of the second half. After a long, completed pass to wide receiver Louis Murphy, the team made it to the Rams 24-yard line and let kicker Sebastian Janikowski steer a ball through the uprights to shrink the deficit to just one point.

Gradkowski, who said after the game that in his mind he is the starter next week for the game against the Cardinals in Arizona, also said he had a sense that the team might go with him for the second half before getting the official word.

“In my head, I’m always ready to play,” Gradkowski said. “You have to keep telling yourself, ‘Just stay ready, just stay ready’ because the moment you relax is the moment you go in.”

Encouraged by the offense’s scoring effort, for the first time in the game the Raider defense immediately stopped the Rams offense, specifically Jackson. On consecutive possessions, the Raiders ‘D’ stood tall with three-and-outs on downs on both, which twice forced a punt back to the Raiders.

“I thought our energy level all game was outstanding,” Cable said. “Particularly in the second half, we had some tremendous efforts by guys. Certainly we seemed to get in some rhythm right away coming out of halftime, and then defensively, we got a couple of stops back-to-back, and I thought that was really, really important.”

The Raiders, capitalizing on running back Darren McFadden’s 107 rushing yards in the second half for a total of 145 on 30 rushes, went on to score their first touchdown of the game on another connection between Gradkowski and Murphy, this time on a 4-yard dart that gave the Raiders their first lead of the game, 13-7. They added another field goal on their very next possession, which provided a little extra breathing room and turned out to make the difference.

Nonetheless, St. Louis refused to yield, making one final push. With 4:15 left in the game, Rams cornerback Jerome Murphy intercepted Gradkowski. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford led the the team down the field in just 47 seconds for his second touchdown of the game on a hookup with wide receiver Mark Clayton. Clayton, the former Baltimore Raven, contorted his body to bring in the catch and tap both of his feet inside the end zone before falling out of bounds.

Fans at Raiders game

Die-hard fans had no choice but to attend Sunday’s action between the Raiders and Rams if they wanted to see the game because it was not televised locally due to less than stellar ticket sales. Photo by Roberto Daza

Just to make it interesting, the score was initially disallowed, ruled an incompletion. That call was overturned, however, after Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo succeeded in challenging it.

But with 3:18 remaining, the Raiders got the ball back and were able to close out the game with a mixture of McFadden runs, which kept the clock running, and short passes in order to make first down conversions. The Rams burned up all three of their timeouts during this drive to conserve time and force a punt, before Rams defensive tackle Fred Robbins blew that strategy by committing a costly late hit on Gradkowski, which drew a penalty and essentially secured the Raiders triumph.

The win was the Raiders eighth (just four losses) against their former city siblings in Los Angeles until they both departed for their current respective homes for the 1995 season.   The win also catapults the Raiders to .500, while Bradford and the Rams, at 0-2, are still looking for their initial wins—of the season, for the Rams, and for Bradford, the first of his young career.

But once again the Raiders can’t seem to keep their name off of the gossip page, creating an instant quarterback controversy that will have to be sorted out before the team’s next game. Cable tried to downplay any sort of contention, suggesting that he felt both Campbell and Gradkowski are similar quarterbacks.

When asked if they are the same, his only answer was coy. “One’s a little taller,” he said.

While this may be true, the shorter of the two quarterbacks—Gradkowski is 6’ 1”; Campbell 6’6”—was the winning signal-caller yesterday, and could be the one chosen to lead the team to greater heights the rest of the season. Stay tuned.

Lead image: Raiders running back Darren McFadden stiff-arms Rams defensive end James Hall on his way to Oakland’s first win of the season. Photo by Roberto Daza

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