Gradkowski does just enough, Raiders win

Bruce Gradkowski didn't do anything special in his first start since replacing JaMarcus Russell as the Raiders' starting quarterback, but there was clearly a different rhythm to Oakland's offense in Sunday's 20-17 win over Cincinnati and for that Gradkowski has to be credited.

For anyone hoping Bruce Gradkowski would come in and instantly turn the Raiders into a top-notch passing team, the game against the Bengals should be an eye-opener.

Gradkowski made several throws behind his intended targets, at times was very skittish in the pocket and completed just four passes to wide receivers. He seemed too reliant at times on his check-down receivers, much like JaMarcus Russell was, and his numbers certainly weren't anything to set fantasy football owners scurrying to grab him off the market.

Yet there's no denying Oakland's offense had a definitively different look and feel.

Part of it was the play of the offensive line, which was working at full strength for just the second game in nearly two months. The Raiders' front five repeatedly beat the Bengals off the ball and controlled the trenches, opening up enough holes that the ground game was able to steadily contribute while also keeping Gradkowski sack-free.

But a lot of it was Gradkowski and the pace with which he ran the offense. While he threw to the same targets and spots that Russell has, the ball came out a lot quicker – which is saying something considering it's Russell who has the stronger arm.

Gradkowski seemed much more comfortable, however, in terms of the decision-making, which allowed him to make his throws sooner, which in turn kept Cincinnati's defense off balance.

"That's the type of plays Drew Brees and the Saints, that's the type of offense that they have," Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "It's tough on a defense because you can't really blitz him because it's going to be a quick passing game. And when you're spreading the ball around, he was spreading the ball around to a lot of different guys, then you can't double certain guys because he'll just hit the check-down or someone else. It was good to see that he was able to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid a lot of the little sacks situations."

He also made plays when the Raiders needed it the most, like the 16-yard completion to Chaz Schilens on 4th-and-10 from the Bengals 45. Or the 29-yard strike to Louis Murphy, the wide receiver who made a great catch with his back to the end zone then out-muscled a Cincinnati defender and plunged the ball over the goal line for the game-tying touchdown.

Gradkowski's day was good enough to earn him a second straight start. Cable confirmed that in his post-game press conference emphatically, continually praising the quarterback for his effort against the Bengals.

The job won't get any easier. Oakland has back-to-back road games, at Dallas on Thanksgiving and at Pittsburgh 10 days later, which will be a bigger litmus test for Gradkowski and the rest of the offense.

For one game, though, it all worked well enough.

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