Watching the unfolding of an unlikely fourth quarter comeback by the Raiders against Pittsburgh tonight, I couldn’t help but be impressed. It is a long time since I have said that about an Oakland offensive performance.
Now that Russell has been benched, things have turned around quickly under Bruce Gradkowski, who also engineered a win against a good Bengals team. This week, he put almost 400 yards of offense on one of the best defences in the league, which is an improvement again. Because the passing game was a threat, the running game also worked well. Not many teams can run the ball on the Steelers. Oakland did.
So what was different again this week? Rookie Darrius Heyward Bey didn’t play, that’s what was different.
The absence of the two biggest under-performers on this team has had the offensive unit exploding into life.
Gradkowski made 12 completions to wide receivers, including four for 128 and two touchdowns to rookie Louis Murphy. The fact that he has been able to get the ball to wide receivers on a regular basis has been statistically the most important difference between Gradkowski and Russell. The absence of Heyward Bey just made his job easier.
Gradkowski threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. It has been a long time a Raider quarterback did that. He has an energy about him, and dare I say a "Rich Gannon" look about him. He clearly brings the kind of intensity and leadership that was lacking in Russell. I’m not going to get too carried away yet though. It's still early, but its a damn good start.
So where does this leave the Raiders? Not in the playoff hunt certainly, but right now it leaves them as the team no one wants to play. At 4-8, Oakland could look to finish 6-10, which though not outstanding, would be their best record since they appeared in the Super Bowl, and is a solid base for next season.
Gradkowski is 2-1 as a starter, and it makes you wonder what Oakland’s record would be if Russell had been benched much earlier.
Three weeks ago, I don’t know anyone who would have given Tom Cable a cat in hells chance of keeping his job at the end of the season. Now, especially given the limited options available to the Raiders in the head coaching market, it seems a very different deal indeed. I’m glad, I like Tom Cable.
With JaMarcus Russell on the bench, this team is clearly headed in the right direction, and people have suddenly stopped laughing at Oakland.
So with a 6-10 finish, does Tom Cable keep his job? I say yes. Cable has seen the light and gone with the guy who can win games for him, Bruce Gradkowski. Cable has instilled in this team a fighting spirit that has been missing for many years. This team doesn’t give up like other Raider teams have done. He also wants to be there, he isn’t just passing through to fill out his resume.
You can never predict what Al Davis will do, but with the change of quarterback, this is a different team, and I think it would be a grave mistake to interrupt such obvious progress now.