The trials and tribulations of Jason Campbell as an Oakland Raider have been alternately interesting and painful to watch, depending on when you tuned in.
In the beginning, all was wonderful as the perennially under-appreciated Campbell was set to erase the memory of he who shall not be referenced and help return the Raiders to respectability. In the minds of Raider Nation and Mr. Al Davis, it was a matter of when, and not if.
Once the games began, it was ugly and bitter as Campbell failed to grasp the offense, held the ball too long and generally looked frazzled and scared playing a game that's second nature to him.
It was strange, confusing and upsetting all at the same time. Campbell had never looked this bad, unprepared or gun-shy at any time in his NFL career.
Do the Raiders really destroy quarterbacks, you had to ask, or was there something else at play here?
Campbell was unceremoniously yanked at halftime of a winnable game against the Rams for fan-favorite Bruce Gradkowski, who played servicably in a Raider win. Gradkowski also played decent to well in narrow defeats to Arizona and Houston the following weeks before being knocked out of the San Diego game in the first quarter.
Re-enter Jason Campbell, who played lights-out in the Raiders' comeback victory over the Chargers, the first such victory in their last 13 contests against the division rival.
Campbell went on the next week to have his worst game as a pro. The Raiders, as a whole, folded after failing to score in the red zone on two early attempts, and the entire team looked like they didn't belong on the same field with the 49ers.
The winless, Bay Area-rival 49ers, at that.
At that point, Raider Nation couldn't wait for Bruce Gradkowski to get healthy again, forgetting Campbell's stellar play against the Chargers the week before. I was as guilty as anyone of this sentiment.
Over the past two weeks, though, Jason Campbell has played the kind of efficient and effective quarterback expected when he joined the Raiders via a draft-day trade. The running game and defense have been the catalysts for Oakland's back-to-back blowouts of the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.
But overlooked in all of that is the incredible play of Campbell.
The knock on him coming into Oakland was that he played things far too safely and would always take the check-down instead of trying to make a play. This certainly showed itself in the Titans and Rams games, and he was benched partly because of it.
However, in three of the past four games, including his relief duty in the Chargers game, Campbell has posted a QB rating over 110 and his average YPA is around the 10 range. This shows he is definitely looking downfield to make plays before checking the ball down.
Bruce Gradkowski is a great leader and spark for this team, and was needed as the starter earlier in the season. This Raider team had the same lackadaisical attitude as those of recent vintage, and Gradkowski seemed to be the only thing that could get them going.
However, this team has awoken, and their focus and intensity has been at an otherworldly level the past two weeks, without Gradkowski as the catalyst. Though I love Bruce and feel that he's a great backup due to his energy and passion, the team no longer NEEDS him to feed off.
They are doing just fine attitude-wise with Campbell as the starter.
In my opinion, Jason Campbell is a more physically-gifted quarterback who can play quite well when unfettered and relaxed, which he has been the past two weeks. While Gradkowski may scrap and keep us in games, I truly believe Jason Campbell, of recent vintage, gives us a better chance to win.
He makes plays downfield without making the same mistakes as Gradkowski, is as mobile when he wants to be, and has certainly gained an excellent grasp of the offense Hue Jackson is running.
Coach Tom Cable is sticking with Gradkowski. That makes sense, since coach wouldn't even be coach if Grads hadn't saved his bacon last season with a couple of unexpectedly excellent performances.
It makes sense out of loyalty. Earlier in the season, it made sense due to the team's lack of passion and desire.
But does it make sense now? The intangible factors Grads brings to the table that make him so beloved in the Nation still existed.
But it is no longer necessary that it come from HIM, as it was earlier in the season and at the end of last season. This team has grown up and is ready to play all on their own lately, which is a credit to the coaching staff.
If coach Cable truly wants to return to Bruce, then he should wait until after the bye. Ride the hot hand this weekend against the Chiefs with Campbell, and then re-evaluate things during the bye week.
Look, Campbell was named the starter in the summer. He lost his position more quickly than most.
Now, despite playing lights-out for three of the last four games (and we're 3-1 since Grads got hurt, by the way) he isn't even getting a chance to win back what was his originally.
Regardless of your opinion, how well D-Mac has run or the defense has played, it cannot be argued that Campbell has put together three games that Gradkowski has never approached in regards to efficiency and effectiveness.
That, coupled with the fact that we brought him in here to be our starter and he's now playing like we wanted and expected, tell me that Jason Campbell is the man for this job. Not early in the season as he was acclimating himself far too slowly, but now, and for the foreseeable future.
I still love Grads, and having these two guys in this scenario is a problem that is more good than bad. But I just feel Campbell is getting little to no credit for playing stellar football three of the last four weeks.
In which we're 3-1, and that he's the better player, period.
I support whoever lets us win. For three of the past four weeks, that's Jason Campbell.
In far more comfortable and effective fashion than Bruce has ever won. The play on the field speaks for itself, and Campbell's play has risen to a level that surpasses anything Gradkowski has ever done in a Raider uniform, regardless of his victories against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Check back tomorrow for my week 9 Pressures, Hurries, and Knockdowns column. HUGE one this week with the Chiefs in town.
* NOTE: Coach Tom Cable confirmed today that Jason Campbell will start against the Chiefs on Sunday. One more chance to show if he's reinvented himself or if he's simply a product of the play around him. Regardless, we can only hope the run game and defense play the way they have recently.
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