When the Oakland Raiders were discussed at the beginning of this season, the question, "How far can they go?" was generally answered with, "As far as JaMarcus Russell can take them." Based on his play over the first nine games, that wasn’t very far at all.
Now, Russell is on the bench (and some might argue that this is long overdue), and there is a new man under center: Bruce Gradkowski.
What we saw from him on Sunday against the Bengals was some real passion. He made good decisions, was generally accurate, and didn’t hurt the Raiders with bad plays. On the one interception he did throw, he had Louis Murphy open deep over the middle, and was in the act of releasing the ball when he was hit. Not a bad throw, just a good defensive play.
His statistics weren’t that great, but he delivered when it mattered and got the win.
Even though he led the Raiders from 14 points down to beat Cincinnati, who have played extremely well on both sides of the ball this year, one good game doesn’t make a successful starting quarterback in the National Football League.
Gradkowski has a career quarterback rating of 59.9, a completion percentage of 52.9, and a record of 4-9 as a starter. These figures are hardly inspirational.
On a more positive note, there are many quarterbacks in the league that take time to develop into quality signal callers: Jim Plunkett and Rich Gannon, to name but two. Gannon was a backup through most of his 17-year career before starring in Oakland and becoming a league MVP.
When Gradkowski came out of Toledo, some of the phrases scouts used to describe him were: "Plays with intensity and elevates the level of his teammates," and "Has the toughness and intangibles teams seek at the quarterback position." He was also compared to Jeff Garcia, which was high praise indeed.
Quarterback is the one position in football where athletic ability is not the prime requisite. Mental toughness, decision-making, and a strong work ethic are more important. It remains to be seen over the coming weeks whether Gradkowski can become the man in Oakland, but for now he is the starter, he is 1-0, and the fans love him for it.