Gradkowski triggers Raiders’ rout of Cowboys
August 14, 2009
OAKLAND- With Terrell Owens far away in Buffalo, Tony Romo happily spread the ball around.
Romo threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to favorite target Jason Witten to cap a brief but successful night before the Oakland Raiders rallied for a 31-10 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night in the exhibition opener for both teams.
Romo completed his four passes on the night to four receivers before leaving with a 7-3 lead that Dallas’ reserves could not hold onto.
“I don’t think it means anything,” Romo said. “If one guy caught six straight balls and then we scored, that’s fine, too. It’s just about whatever the defense allows us on that specific play.”
Bruce Gradkowski engineered three touchdown drives against mostly backups on Dallas’ defense, throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Tony Stewart in the second quarter. Louis Rankin and Gary Russell added short TD runs in the third quarter, long after Romo’s night was done.
Romo played just two drives, going three-and-out on the first after former teammate Greg Ellis batted down his first pass of the game, and throwing the TD to Witten on the second. Romo and the Dallas offense looked sharp on the second drive as he completed all four of his passes and the Cowboys mixed in the run effectively.
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Three of the completions came against backup corner Stanford Routt, who replaced All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha after one drive. Romo avoided pressure in the pocket on the touchdown pass to give Witten time to get open in the end zone against Routt.
There is plenty of intrigue about how the Cowboys offense will look after the departure of Owens, who caught 235 passes in three seasons with Dallas but often complained that he didn’t get the ball enough.
Roy Williams, who struggled after coming over from Detroit during last season, will be counted on heavily this season. He caught one pass from Romo for 12 yards. Romo also completed passes to Martellus Bennett and Felix Jones on the drive.
“If we execute like that, any team is going to have trouble,” Williams said. “But we’re going to have our adversity and have our hard times where we can’t get open or the quarterback gets sacked or a bad throw. But tonight it all fell into place.”
Sam Hurd, one of the young receivers Dallas is counting on to emerge this season, had five catches for 79 yards from Jon Kitna.
Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell also played two series, driving his team to a field goal on the opening drive as Oakland relied heavily on the pass early. Russell looked poised in the pocket, completing six of nine passes for 50 yards against Dallas’ backup cornerbacks and even scrambling for 18 yards on one play.
Russell had a particularly good rapport with second-year receiver Chaz Schilens, who caught four passes from Russell and also drew a 47-yard pass interference penalty that set up Sebastian Janikowski’s 23-yard field goal. Schilens finished with five catches for 52 yards.
“I thought he was very aggressive with the ball, made good decisions,” coach Tom Cable said. “That’s what I’m talking about with him. When he plays the game at a fast enough speed, it allows him to be on time and he showed that tonight.”
First-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey wasn’t nearly as effective. Russell missed the speedster on two deep attempts and Heyward-Bey finished with one catch for 8 yards as Dallas often
“We’re going to see a lot of that this season,” Heyward-Bey said. “I saw a lot of that in college. But the important thing is the win.”
Gradkowski completed nine of 16 passes for 153 yards, including a 48-yard pass to undrafted free-agent Nick Miller that set up Gary Russell’s 1-yard run. Charlie Frye, who is battling Gradkowski for the third-string job, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Will Franklin in the fourth quarter as the Raiders did a good job picking on Dallas’ depleted secondary. Second-stringer Jeff Garcia missed the game with a calf injury.
“Our second group and our young guys, they made a lot of mistakes,” Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. “You could see them out there. … Those things shouldn’t happen but they did. Our guys will learn from those things.”
The Cowboys wasted a scoring opportunity at the end of the half when Kitna botched a shotgun snap at the 2 from Cory Procter, leading to a 16-yard loss. Nick Folk missed a 36-yard field goal.
NOTES: Ellis, who spent 11 seasons with Dallas before being released in June, visited with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and some of his former teammates before the game. … Injured cornerbacks Terence Newman (groin), Mike Jenkins (ankle) and rookie Michael Hawkins (knee) missed the game for Dallas. Orlando Scandrick and Alan Ball got the starts.