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Gradkowski rejuvinates Raiders in home opener
OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 02: Bruce Gradkowski of the Oakland Raiders passes against the Seattle Seahawks during an NFL preseason game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 2, 2010 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

No Robert Gallery, no Richard Seymour, no Michael Bush, no Chaz Schilens, so I have one question for you Raider nation, do you got Bruce Gradkowski?

The game did not start well for the Raiders…well it kind of did, but they couldn’t capitalize. After a three-and-out series early in the ballgame for the Rams, Johnnie Lee Higgins started the momentum right for the Raiders with a 53-yard punt return that put the Raiders deep in Rams territory for their first drive. But in another head-scratching call by the coaching staff, they decided to go for it on fourth down and inches from the Rams’ six-yard line. It was a handoff to Marcel Reece and it came up short. I thought they should’ve taken the points, no questions asked.

Following that turnover on downs, the Ram’s drove the ball deep into Raiders territory, mostly on the legs of Steven Jackson. Only they would end their drive with a sack by rookie Lamarr Houston that put the Rams in a situation where they missed a field goal. Lamarr Houston would keep the pressure on for the entire game, finishing with 2 solo tackles and this sack.

Following that drive, the Raiders came out swinging, Jason Campbell hit his wide receivers a little bit, Darren McFadden got his wheels turning a little bit, and the Raiders drove deep into Rams’ territory. Then Sebastian Janikowski matched Josh Brown’s missed field goal. There was a lot of offense early, but nobody could score points.

Steven Jackson took over after that. He put up 61 yards on the ground and added a 17-yard catch; he was making the Raiders’ defense look like amateurs. On the Rams’ third drive of the game their rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford, hit wide receiver Mark Clayton on a play action pass in front of Tyvon Branch. The Rams took the first lead of the game 7-0.

But starting the second quarter, the Raiders decided they’d better put the clamps on Steven Jackson. After starting with a hot hand, Jackson would finish the game with 11 more carries that went for only 14 yards.

At this point, the Raiders starting mixing up the left tackle situation. After deliberating all week long, head coach Tom Cable decided to start Samson Satele at center, but he wanted to investigate what Jared Veldheer looked like playing left tackle. So for the rest of the game, the Raiders would switch back and forth between Mario Henderson and Veldheer at the position. Satele had a good game and showed good leadership in the middle of the offense, aside from one play where Rams’ middle linebacker James Laurinaitis would come straight up the middle unblocked for a sack on Jason Campbell.

Campbell did a good job testing the Rams’ deep coverage in the first half, but it seemed like the offensive line could not keep him clean. Late in the second half, the Raiders had a first down and were driving into Rams’ territory when Campbell threw an ill-advised interception. He had also fumbled two times prior to throwing that interception, bringing his total fumbles for the year up to four. The crowd at the Coliseum had seen enough of Campbell and started chanting “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce!”

The Raiders would leave the field of play after the first half to a chorus of boos after being semi-productive, but only contributing 3 points to the score board.

Then it happened…Bruce Gradkowski took the field on the opening drive to start the third quarter for the Raiders. After converting their first third down of the second half, the FOX camera panned to Tom Cable on the sidelines and you could see a sly smile on the face of Tom Cable, who later took full credit for the decision to pull Campbell.

After controlling the offense and driving up the field with ease, commentator John Lynch would add, “The one thing Gradkowski is doing is getting the ball out on time.”

But that wasn’t all Gradkowski would do for the day. Following a half-opening field goal drive, the Raiders defense would hold the Rams to a three-and out. Gradkowski came back on the field and led the Raiders to a touchdown on a throw to Louis Murphy—his first of the year. The Rams would start their second half with three straight three-and-out series, although they were aided for a first down on one of their drives by a Tommy Kelly personal foul. However, the Raiders’ defense would ultimately hold the Rams’ offense to just 12 total yards in the third quarter.

The Raiders would add another field goal drive with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter to bring their total unanswered points to 16 and giving them a 16-7 lead. After a pass interference call on Michael Huff, on which he nearly picked off a pass, Stanford Routt would make a pretty spectacular interception of his own. The FOX TV camera then showed a shot of Sam Bradford on the Rams’ sidelines and you could clearly see that he was not eating a hot dog.

After a tipped pass led to a Gradkowski interception, Rolando McClain showed that he has an inner-Raider by suplexing a Rams’ wide receiver (we’ll post that on our Facebook page later in the week). Rolando would be called for unnecessary roughness, but the crowd didn’t care, they loved it. This drive later led to a Rams’ touchdown, with Bradford and Clayton once again beating Tyvon Branch. In Branch’s defense, it was a pretty amazing catch that was initially ruled incomplete and had to be challenged by the Rams. The score came with 3:18 seconds left in the game and it was the last time the Rams would see the ball on offense.

Following a personal foul for an unnecessary hit on the QB by Rams’ defensive tackle, Fred Robbins, Gradkowski would hit Louis Murphy for a third down conversion and take the game to the two minute warning. Darren McFadden would complete the game with a run up the middle for a first down with the Rams out of timeouts. McFadden finished the game with 30 carries for 145 yards, his second career 100-yard game.

Darrius Heyward-Bey had the best game of his professional career, catching six passes for 80 yards. he broke a couple of tackles and added some intensity to the offense. His comrade Louis Murphy finished with 6 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Gradkowski would start 9-11 for 122 yards and a touchdown, but only hit two of his last 11 for 40 yards and an interception.

It was a solid win for the Raiders, but a little too close for comfort. Following the game, Tom Cable said he would make a decision on the Raiders’ starting QB tomorrow. He added, “Our energy level all game was outstanding…particularly in the second half.” And towards the end of his press conference he said, “There’s two things we can control—how bad we want to win and how hard we’re willing to play to do that.”

Raider Nation is pretty unanimous in their decision for a starting QB. On our Facebook page, we received 25 comments in an hour in respone to this survey: “Give us your pick for the starting QB against the Arizona Cardinals Raider Nation.” The clear cut choice of every responder was Bruce Gradkowsi.

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