It took nearly an entire half of poor football before Raider Nation was ready for a change they could believe in. With less than 30 seconds left in the first half, the Raiders were reeling, down 7-3, and Jason Campbell (8-15, 87 yds, 1 int) had just thrown his first interception of the game. That’s when the stadium began to fill with what sounded like boo’s. Raider Nation wasn’t booing their team, they were instead calling for backup quarterback ‘Bruce’ Gradkowski.
Their wish became Tom Cable’s command.
Gradkowski got the call in the second half and gave the Raider Nation their real wish – a 16-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams at the Oakland Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.
When the two teams came out of the locker room after halftime, Gradkowski was fervently getting warmed up with fellow backup Kyle Boller — with his helmet on. As Jason Campbell stood on the sidelines, it wasn’t readily apparent that Gradkowski was doing anything more than playing catch. After rookie Jacoby Ford returned the half’s opening kickoff to the Raiders’ 18, there was no mistaking who the starter was.The announcement that Gradkowski had entered the game was made over the P.A. system, and the 48,396 fans in the Coliseum erupted in cheers and a chorus of “Bruuuuce!”
“That was a good move by their coaches,” said Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo after the game. “He’s obviously a mobile guy. He executed their offense pretty good. They came out obviously with an intent to throw the football. He did a nice job.”
Gradkowski (11-22, 162 yards, 1 TD, 1 int) didn’t disappoint. On Gradkowski’s first two drives, the Raiders scored 10 points, including a four-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy. The Raiders immediately took a 13-7 lead after those two drives and then held on with help from a rejuvenated defense and solid running from Darren McFadden (30 rushes for 145 yards).
On every completed pass for a first down, and each time that Gradkowski took the field, the crowd chanted, “Bruce,” sounding similar to a chorus of boo’s. “Definitely was exciting,” said Gradkowski of the fans chanting his name. “They weren’t booing they were Bruuuu-ing,” he continued with a big smile.
Despite the popular move by Tom Cable, the coach was noncommittal on his starter for week three. “I’ll worry about all that tomorrow, really,” said Cable about the starter’s role at quarterback. “I want to go look at it. But today was about winning this game, what did it take to do that, that was the right choice, obviously, and it worked out, and Bruce came in and gave us a lift.”
About the only person unhappy about Gradkowski taking over was the guy he replaced. Jason Campbell went out of his way after the game to be professional and say all the right things about the move. “Of course it’s disappointing,” said the signal caller out of Auburn on his demotion at the half. “But at the same time, I didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. It’s bigger than me. It’s not about me, it’s about the team.”
While Gradkowski stole the show, it was two of the Raiders most recent first-round picks that carried the heavy load. McFadden averaged 4.8 yards per carry on Sunday, and was at times the only offense the Raiders had. Darrius Heyward-Bey also stepped up, having the most productive game of his short career (6 rcpts for 80 yards).
“I was just hitting the hole they were opening for me,” said McFadden who already has 240 yards on 48 attempts (5.0 ypc) for the season, and now has a game ball after Sunday. When asked what it was that Gradkowski brought with him into the game, McFadden replied, “Bruce always comes with a great spark. His energy is great, and he definitely brought it into the game.”
On a day where he caught just three fewer passes than he did his entire rookie season (9), DHB made a point that his happiness has nothing to do with his own stats. “Winning is the best thing,” said the second-year pro. “If I had 9 catches for 200 yards in a loss, it doesn’t matter. We lost. Team game.”
He doesn’t have to worry about that this time.