With Raiders winning, Gradkowski will remain starting QB

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- When Bruce Gradkowski saw a couple of offensive linemen looking at a replay on the scoreboard when the Oakland Raiders were trying to get up to the line during a 2-minute drill he let them know how just he felt.

"I'm not going to say exactly what I said. But I said, 'Hey, get in the huddle, we'll look at the scoreboard after we score,"' Gradkowski recalled Monday. "I was kind of mad because I was aggravated like hey, 'Get in the huddle. Focus on this. Let's score first and then we can watch the game after."'

Brooks: New-look Raiders

NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks was asked during his weekly chat about the Raiders' decision to bench JaMarcus Russell for Bruce Gradkowski.

"The Raiders look completely different with Gradkowski at the helm, and that should make team officials question their decision to remain with Russell. I'm still a believer that Russell can develop into a solid pro quarterback, but the Raiders are playing better without him and should continue to stick with Gradkowski until he falters."  **Chat transcript ...**

The players followed Gradkowski's lead and he delivered on his promise, throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with 9 seconds left in Oakland's 27-24 victory at Pittsburgh.

With his second fourth-quarter comeback in three starts since replacing JaMarcus Russell, Gradkowski is solidifying his spot as the Raiders starting quarterback.

"I'm pretty confident in my abilities and being a starter in this league," Gradkowski said. "If yesterday cemented it, that's good. My goal is to continue to be successful and put this team in position to win football games. And that's my job, and I have to just be the manager on offense. And whatever happens after that will happen."

Coach Tom Cable said Gradkowski has made the most of his opportunity and will keep the starting job as long as he keeps performing.

Cable said at the time he made the change that Russell is still the team's quarterback of the future after being the first overall pick in 2007. Cable wouldn't address the team's plans for 2010 on Monday.

"That's not for me to even think about right now," he said. "Right now I have to be focused on what's at hand this season and all that. That's for after the season, evaluating your team and all that, so I would have no thought for that right now. No time for that."

Gradkowski's transformation has been remarkable, considering he was out of a job for part of last season before hooking up with Cleveland late in the 2008 season. He had one ineffective start with the Browns before being sent back to the street again after the season.

Gradkowski started 11 games as a rookie in 2006 with Tampa Bay, but was cut by the Buccaneers, St. Louis and Cleveland in less than a nine-month stretch.

"It's tough," he said. "I've seen each end of it, the starting quarterback side and then the side when you're on the street for a while. It's just a matter of staying confident in yourself and knowing this happens sometimes. Look at Kurt Warner and Jake Delhomme and guys that have been on the streets, Jeff Garcia coming from Canada. Just examples like that. I think the main thing in this league is you have to persevere, and if you're strong enough to do that you'll succeed."

Since taking over for Russell, Gradkowski rallied the Raiders with a late touchdown pass in a 20-17 win over Cincinnati, lost at Dallas on Thanksgiving and then had his best performance of all in the fourth quarter in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

He engineered a 57-yard drive to start the quarter, capped with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Schilens that gave the Raiders a 13-10 lead. After the Steelers took only two plays to take back the lead, Gradkowski connected on a 75-yard touchdown pass to Murphy that put Oakland back on top with 5:28 to go.

But Pittsburgh wasn't done, retaking the lead on Ben Roethlisberger's 11-yard TD pass to Hines Ward with 1:56 remaining. That's when Gradkowski took over, taking command of the huddle and the game.

He got the 88-yard winning drive started with a 17-yard pass to Johnnie Lee Higgins. He converted a third-and-12 with a 12-yard pass to Todd Watkins and then got the ball into Pittsburgh territory with a 19-yard pass to Murphy.

He then threw a ball up for grabs that Murphy made a leaping catch on at the 17 for a 23-yard gain before beating a blitz for the game-winner in the back of the end zone.

"Any time you win, everyone is going to rally around you," tight end Zach Miller said. "Especially the way we've won two of the last three."

Gradkowski became the first Raiders quarterback to throw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter since Ken Stabler did it against New Orleans in 1979. He also is the only quarterback in the league since at least 1991 to throw three go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, according to STATS LLC.

That kind of performance raises questions about whether Oakland would have been better off making the change at quarterback earlier. Russell struggled mightily in his third season, completing 46.8 percent of his passes with only two touchdowns and 14 turnovers before being benched during a loss to Kansas City on Nov. 15.

"Hindsight's 20-20, I guess," Cable said. "It is what it is. I don't have any control over that, and did it when I thought it was right, and we move on."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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