It didn’t take long into the season for the Oakland Raiders to make a change at quarterback. After six quarters, in the middle of a game in fact, Tom Cable and Hue Jackson decided they had seen enough of the unsteady Jason Campbell and pulled him for last year’s folk hero Bruce Gradkowski. As is usually the case, Gradkowski got injured and could no longer compete as the starter. Campbell came back in as the starter, won three out of four starts and led the Raiders into a bye week with a lot of confidence. Campbell also played a solid second half against the rival San Diego Chargers in the game Gradkowski was knocked out of.
But following a trip to Pittsburgh that didn’t go even close to as well as planned, questions once again arose about the state of the Raiders’ quarterback position. Cable said that the Raiders would stick with Jason Campbell for their next game against the Miami Dolphins.
The general feeling coming out of the 32 point loss in Pittsburgh is that the Steelers were just going to unleash hell on whoever their opponent was in that game. Cable kind of wrote it off as a game that won’t define his team and just another bad trip to the east coast for his west coast based Raiders. Jason Campbell said that the Steelers practiced in full pads all last week and it was clear that they wanted to send a message that they were not the team who lost to the New England Patriots the prior week.
That message was signed, sealed, and delivered; aided by a lackluster performance by the Raiders’ offense.
Consensus was after defensive end Richard Seymour hit Ben Roethlisberger in the mouth with an open hand karate chop the Steelers started to play a little dirtier; hit the Raiders’ quarterback after whistles, jump offside and over linemen to take Campbell down, and the like. That’s why the Raiders’ pulled Campbell from this particular game.
It surely can be said with accuracy that the guys around Campbell were not giving him much help in this game. Campbell gave credit to Louis Murphy and Zach Miller for trying to go even though they may not have been at 100 percent that game. Miller, in fact, was seen with a protective boot on his foot following the game for what coach Cable called, “soreness after the game.” Miller dropped four passes by my count and Louis Murphy had that big time fumble that led to seven points for the Steelers and gave them a 21-3 lead.
In addition to that, Darren McFadden and the Raiders offensive line never got the ground game clicking either. That hurt the Raiders’ play action passes which they were expecting to be a part of the gameplan. Cable later admitted that 13-14 handoffs were not enough, especially for a feature halfback like McFadden. He said that sometimes star halfbacks have a tough time getting it going and you just have to keep feeding them the ball and they may get better as the game goes on.
All in all, the Pittsburgh game was one to learn from; sloppy field, across the country, against a tough and physical opponent. One that you’d like to forget, but also would like to grow from. In the words of safety Mike Mitchell, “We’re going to be very frustrated, very pissed off, because we got beat pretty good. We got our butts whooped so we need to come out and respond (to) get things back in the winning direction.”
Still you have to wonder how much leeway Jason Campbell earned during the win streak in Bruce Gradkowski’s absence from the team? Gradkowski said a few things of interest to reporters on Monday. One of which was that he felt really good out there on Sunday in terms of health. And the thing that interested me the most was when he said things may have been very different if he had not thrown that interception on his first series. Gradkowski said he saw a guy coming at him unblocked and just made a decision to throw the ball into the ground, but instead (as he often does) Troy Polamalu came out of nowhere and picked the pass with a nice diving effort.
It’s very true if the Raiders had scored a touchdown on that drive things could’ve been very different, not only in that game but as far as the Raiders’ quarterback situation moving forward. That play was kind of like the wind left the sails of the team and from then on all they wanted to do was go get on the plane and go home. Gradkowski has made a name for himself by making big throws in key situations, like fourth-down-and-ten’s when his team really needs it. Had Polamalu dropped that one, there’s a chance Gradkowski would’ve rejuvenated the team with a touchdown pass on fourth down. And then who knows what would’ve happened.
But that’s not what happened. Fact is fact and should’ve, would’ve, could’ve should be saved for speeches when Cable is trying to save his job and his team’s season. Still you have to wonder how short Jason Campbell’s leash is with a healthy Gradkowski breathing down the back of his neck. Gradkowski has proven he can make plays when his team needs him, now Jason Campbell may be strapped with only one more half against the Miami Dolphins to prove he can do the same. Fortunately for Campbell, he should have Murphy and Miller back at 100 percent. And who knows, we may even see the season debut of glass-boned wide receiver Chaz Schilens.
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