Gradkowski leads Raiders past Rams
OAKLAND – Bruce Gradkowski held his helmet and the football to the sky as he walked off the field to the chants of “Bruuuuce!” that echoed throughout the Coliseum for most of the second half.
Gradkowski gave Oakland a spark early this season, leading the Raiders to their first win and creating questions about who the starter will be.
Gradkowski replaced an ineffective Jason Campbell after halftime and led Oakland to three scoring drives and a 16-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams in the home opener on Sunday.
“They called my number and I just said I’m just going to do my thing, go out and have fun,” Gradkowski said. “We did that the second half. … It was exciting to get a win. We’re just looking forward to moving on.”
The question is whether it will be with Campbell or Gradkowski at quarterback. Coach Tom Cable said he hadn’t made any decisions about that just yet.
But the fact that he made the switch just six quarters into the season after waiting a half-season to bench JaMarcus Russell showed how desperate Cable and the coaching staff was for a spark.
“If things aren’t working out the way they want, obviously they’re going to make moves and try to get that going,” cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “But that was definitely a big move, because they were trying to say we need to get something started.”
Gradkowski threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy, Darren McFadden ran for 145 yards on a career-high 30 carries and Sebastian Janikowski kicked three field goals to give Oakland (1-1) its first win in a home opener since 2004.
Sam Bradford threw two touchdown passes to Mark Clayton but was unable to get the offense moving for much of the second half as the Rams (0-2) lost for the 27th time in 28 games.
“In this football league, you have to play a full game,” Bradford said. “You can’t come out and play a half and expect to win. I felt like as an offense, we played good in the first half. You’d like to have more points than seven, but we got into a rhythm and I think everything was rolling smooth. Then we came out very flat in the second half.”
Gradkowski breathed life into Oakland’s inept offense a year ago, leading the team to victories over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh before being sidelined by a knee injury.
Gradkowski never got the chance to win the job this season as Oakland traded for Campbell and made him the starter. Gradkowski tore a pectoral muscle in the offseason and injured his groin early in training camp.
He played well in two exhibition games but Campbell opened the season as starter, even drawing comparisons to two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim Plunkett from owner Al Davis.
Campbell struggled in a 38-13 season-opening loss at Tennessee and was pulled at halftime of this game. He was 8 for 15 for 87 yards and an interception on his final pass as Oakland trailed 7-3.
“I was surprised,” Campbell said. “We were down 7-3. We had been moving the ball. We just stalled when we got to the red zone. But at the same time, it was a decision that they made.”
Taking the field to elongated chants of his name, Gradkowski completed his first three passes. His 26-yard completion to Murphy set up a 41-yard field goal by Janikowski that made it 7-6.
After the Raiders stopped the Rams on a three-and-out the next possession, Gradkowski drove Oakland 83 yards to a score on the floater to Murphy.
The offensive success appeared to give a boost to a defense that struggled to slow down Steven Jackson in the first half. St. Louis gained only 17 yards and one first down – on a personal foul by Tommy Kelly – in the first 26 minutes of the second half.
Bradford finally got the Rams moving after Jerome Murphy intercepted a pass with just over 4 minutes remaining and the Rams trailing 16-7. Just 47 seconds later, Bradford hit Clayton on a 17-yard TD pass to make it 16-14.
A personal foul on Fred Robbins, the fourth of the game by the Rams, and a 13-yard pass from Gradkowski to Murphy on third-and-7 helped Oakland run out the clock.
“You have to play a little bit smarter,” Robbins said. “We were killing ourselves. We had a few penalties on a few big drives, and it hurt us.”
The play in the first half was reflective of two teams that have struggled to win any games in recent years. Both teams missed makable field goal attempts in the first quarter, with Josh Brown missing wide right from 36 yards for St. Louis and Janikowski missing wide left from 46 yards.
Bradford played conservatively in the first half, throwing only four passes to wide receivers. He converted one of those into a touchdown when he connected from 7 yards with Clayton to give St. Louis a 7-0 lead.
NOTES: Raiders LB Quentin Groves had the hit of the game, flattening Mardy Gilyard on a kick return in the third quarter. … Oakland topped 400 yards for the first time since Oct. 23, 2005, against Buffalo. … The attendance of 48,396 was the smallest for a Raiders home opener since they drew 40,545 against the Giants in 1998. … Rams S Craig Dahl left with a concussion.
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