Raiders outgun Steelers behind Gradkowski

Bruce Gradkowski celebrated his return to Pittsburgh by taking a few of his teammates to his mother's house for dinner Friday night. Two days later, Gradkowski served up dessert for the Raiders by leading them to three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and a 27-24 win over Pittsburgh, knocking a huge dent in the Steelers playoff hopes.

At times Bruce Gradkowski looks like a quarterback who has been cut by three teams in the last two seasons. He has been less than perfect, without question, and until the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh he had made enough mistakes to help keep the offense from moving with any real consistency.

But in the span of 15 minutes, Gradkowski not only led the Raiders to their biggest win in seven years but he outdueled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a battle that NFL Films undoubtedly should enshrine as an instant classic.

For three quarters Oakland and Gradkowski put up a decent fight against the defending Super Bowl champs but did nothing spectacular and didn't have much to show for it outside of a Sebastian Janikowski field goal that defied all logic of space and time by heading right for an assured miss before taking a sudden straight-line 45-degree detour that hooked back through the uprights.

Then Gradkowski, who led the Raiders to a fourth quarter comeback against Cincinnati two weeks ago, pulled off some magic once again.

First, he connected with Chaz Schilens for a 17-yard score that gave Oakland its first lead of the game at 13-10. Then after Rashard Mendenhall's 3-yard run put the Steelers back in front, Gradkowski hooked up with rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy for a 75-yard touchdown to make it 20-17.

Murphy is without question the best receiver the Raiders have and his performance was just another example. The kid produces on the field, we've all seen that, but his work ethic in practice is outstanding and his drive to be better is what has been at the heart of the big plays the fourth-round pick has made this season.

Schilens and Johnnie Lee Higgins were the starting wide receivers against Pittsburgh and Darrius Heyward-Bey was inactive, meaning in someone's eyes Murphy is only the fourth-best receiver on the roster since Heyward-Bey has started every game this season despite an overwhelming lack of production. It's Al's call, and until the boss changes his mind that situation won't change any time soon.

But Murphy, well, the kid is a flat-out player. His most impressive work might be what he does after the catch. He uses his frame well to body up against opposing defensive backs then muscles up against defenders and doesn't go down easy.

Murphy found his way into the end zone again a short time later with the game-winner.

Roethlisberger, who passed for 278 yards and two TDs with a 123.3 rating, directed the Steelers on an 80-yard, seven-play touchdown drive with 1:56 left to play. At that point just about everyone figured Oakland's best just wasn't going to be enough.

Gradkowski figured otherwise.

Given 108 seconds to work with and no timeouts, and pinned at his own 12-yard line, Gradkowski led the Raiders to what was easily their most significant touchdown of the year. He wasn't great on the drive – 5 of 11 – and threw a pass that should have been intercepted but he produced. And produced. And produced, finally finding Murphy for an 11-yard touchdown that gave Oakland a 27-24 lead.

"The cornerback blitzed, the safety came over the top, and since the cornerback blitzed, I actually shortened up the route because you're not supposed to get to the back line of the end zone," Murphy said. "So, I shortened up, went two or three steps inside like I was running a dig in and came back out. Bruce laid it up perfectly in the corner, and it worked just like it worked in practice."

It's still hard to get good read on exactly what type of quarterback Gradkowski can be. The Raiders signed him in the offseason and there was a point where he was no higher than fourth on the depth chart.

But after watching his work against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter, in front of his mother and family and some 10 miles from where he grew up playing high school football, Gradkowski proved he belongs in

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