by Lee Hubbard
In a game that was not a thing of beauty, the Oakland Raiders found a way to defeat the St. Louis Rams 16-14 on Sunday in the 2010 home opener at the Coliseum in Oakland. This was the teams’ first win in a home opener since 2004.
With the win, the Silver and Black evened their record at 1-1 on the season while St. Louis falls to 0-2. Amazingly, the Rams have now lost 27 of their last 28 games.
Raiders Head Coach Tom Cable was pleased that his team came out of the game with a “W” even though the performance left a little to be desired. “Not very pretty obviously,” said Cable. “But we’ll take it. Today we’ll be happy.”
Cable praised the effort of his team. “I thought our energy level all game long was outstanding,” said the Raider boss. It was one of those days where the Raiders played hard the entire way but not necessarily well.
Mistakes were plentiful. Oakland had 12 penalties for 90 yards. They fumbled three times – they did manage to recover all of them. Two passes were intercepted by the Rams. But the determination was there to stick with it and that paid off.
The Raiders DID accomplish some things offensively in this one. They amassed a total of 404 yards. This was more than they gained in any game for the entire 2009 season. They were led by running back Darren McFadden, who had a career-high 30 carries in gaining 145 yards (4.8 average yards per carry), including 107 in the second half. For his efforts, McFadden received a game ball from Cable.
But the biggest news offensively was Cable making a change of quarterbacks at halftime. Starter Jason Campbell was replaced by popular backup Bruce Gradkowski to the delight of the sparse crowd, who continuously chanted “Bruuuce” throughout the second half.
Cable said he made the switch to “give the team a lift. I felt like we needed to change up a little bit.” The head coach went on to say, “My job is to win games and do whatever it takes to do that.” Cable said he felt like the team wasn’t in rhythm and the change was the right thing to do.
It proved to be prophetic. Gradkowski came in and did move the team. Of the Raiders’ 404 total yards, 274 of them came in the second half. And the team did show a renewed burst of energy after intermission with Gradkowski in charge.
Cable acknowledged Gradkowski’s effect. “We seemed to get in some rhythm right away coming out after halftime.”
“I was ready to go,” said Gradkowski. “We brought some fire, intensity and some energy and we did some good things. It’s exciting to get a win.”
Naturally Campbell was disappointed. Be he understands that decisions like this are part of the game and tried to be professional about the situation. “It’s disappointing,” said Campbell. “But at the same time, I didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. It’s bigger than me.”
Cable was non-committal about who would be the starter next week, saying that he would look at it Monday. But a quarterback controversy may be in the works. Gradkowski did comment, “I expect to start.” Stay tuned on this one.
Another big part of the offense was the play of second-year wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy. Both wideouts had six catches on the day with Murphy also having a 4-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
The duo combined for 171 receiving yards. “I thought both guys really grew today,” said Cable. “We went to ‘em a number of times and they answered.”
Heyward-Bey commented, “Me and Louis came to play.” Indeed they did …
Defensively, the Silver and Black came after Rams’ rookie quarterback Sam Bradford with blitzes and it paid off. They had three sacks on the day and five quarterback hits. But most importantly, they put consistent pressure on Bradford and forced him to hurry and make mistakes. Cable said it made sense to put the pressure on a young quarterback. “You want to try to confuse him as much as you can,” said Cable.
Another significant factor on defense was the Silver and Black’s ability to contain Rams running back Steven Jackson, particularly in the second half when Jackson had only 8 yards. For the day Jackson ran for just 75 yards on 19 carries, a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry. Cable said it was just a matter of the defense “settling down” in regards to their ability to stop Jackson.
Also impressive were the numerous big time hits by the Raider defense, most notably a body slam by rookie linebacker Rolando McClain on St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola in the fourth quarter. The play did result in a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty but you certainly could not fault McClain’s aggressiveness.
And the bottom line did come up positive for the Silver and Black on defense. They held the Rams to only 202 yards total offense and just 75 yards rushing. The run defense did respond this week and it obviously paid dividends in helping the Raiders hold the Rams to just 14 points.
The least total yards allowed in the entire 2009 season was 282 on Dec. 27 against Cleveland.
The special teams contributed some positives in this contest as well. Sebastian Janokowski made three of four field goals. Johnnie Lee Higgins returned a punt 53 yards in the opening quarter. And the coverage teams had a better day, including a couple monster hits by Quentin Groves and Michael Huff.
So in a game that was a must-win, the Raiders found a way to come through. The task at this point is to eliminate mistakes and play with more consistency, at the same time maintaining the effort they showed against the Rams.
Make no mistake, the opponent was not Lombardi’s Packers, and the Raiders are a long ways off no doubt. But there were some things to be encouraged by in this game. And that word encouragement has been a stranger to the Raider Nation for an awful long time.
Next up, the Raiders travel to Phoenix to face the Arizona Cardinals (1-1) this Sunday.
Gradkowski was 11 of 22 for 162 yards and the one T.D. to Murphy. He threw one interception and was not sacked. His passer rating was 70.6 … Campbell was 8 of 15 for 87 yards with one interception. He was sacked twice for 18 yards. His passer rating was 42.9 … This was the second time McFadden topped the 100-yard rushing mark in his three-year career … The six catches and 80 yards were both career highs for Heyward-Bey … Jacoby Ford returned three kickoffs for 61 yards, an average of 20.3 per return … Higgins had one other punt return for 1 yard besides the big 53-yarder … Janokowski’s three field goals came from 38, 41 and 22 yards. He missed from 46 yards in the first quarter. He is now 5 of 7 for the year … Shane Lechler punted three times for 129 yards, an average of 43.0. His net was 36.3. His longest was 47 yards in the third quarter … Oakland led in first downs 25-16 … The Silver and Black also held a big edge in time of possession, 36:49 to 23:11 … The Raiders had 79 offensive plays to only 49 for St. Louis … The Raiders were 7-17 (41 percent) in third down efficiency … Linebacker Rolando McClain had three tackles and three assists … Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and safety Tyvon Branch each four tackles and one assist for Oakland … The Raider sacks were recorded by Branch (11 yards), end Lamarr Houston (13 yards) and Wimbley (8 yards) … The defense also had five tackles for losses … Cable reported no significant injuries after the game. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha did receive a blow to the head and left the game briefly and returned once he got his senses back … Running back Michael Bush (thumb), wide receiver Chaz Schilens (knee), left guard Robert Gallery (hamstring) and defensive tackle Richard Seymour (hamstring) were among the eight Raider inactives … The announced paid attendance was 48,396, the smallest for a home opener since 1998 …
Lee Hubbard is a Bay Area journalist who is well known to longtime Bay View readers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.