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Void at quarterback position haunts Raiders

| Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009

It's on the front cover of the team's media guide and there on the weekly media packet.

The Steelers might've been the team of the '70s, the 49ers the team of the '80s and the Cowboys the team of the '90s, but the Oakland Raiders are the self-proclaimed "The Team of the Decades."

"The Oakland Raiders are the only NFL team to have played in the Super Bowls in four different decades — 1960s (Super Bowl II), the 1970s (Super Bowl XI), the 1980s (Super Bowl XV and XVIII) and the 2000s (Super Bowl (XXXVII)," it states proudly on the outside of the media packet.

Strategically placed or not, just an eye's wander away from the "Team of the Decades" moniker is where it proudly pronounces that the Raiders have had four different quarterbacks start their five Super Bowl appearances.

But names like Lamonica, Stabler, Plunkett and Gannon have been replaced by Mirer, McCown, Walter and Tuiasosopo.

The "Team of the Decades" probably should've been stopped being used in 2002 when it comes to the Raiders.

Since losing in Super Bowl XXXVII on January 26, 2003, the Raiders have the worst record in the NFL. They have lost at least 11 games in six consecutive years and are well on their way to a seventh when they come to Heinz Field to play the Steelers today.

It is all traced back to one thing — instability at quarterback.

The Raiders have started 10 different quarterbacks over the past 6.5 years with none of them winning more than seven games.

They have tried No. 1 overall picks (JaMarcus Russell), they have tried somebody else's No. 2 overall pick (Rick Mirer), they have tried a veteran (Kerry Collins) and they have tried a quarterback who once starred with another team (Daunte Culpepper).

Even names such as Rob Johnson and Tee Martin have taken snaps. Now, it is Bruce Gradkowski's turn, a Seton-La Salle graduate who has been with four teams over the past three seasons.

"If you don't have (a quarterback), you aren't winning," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.

That's been proven. The Raiders are 27-80 and have five last-place finishes since Rich Gannon started every game from 1999-2002, and led Oakland to the playoffs three straight years and a 41-23 record.

"You look at the best teams, year in and year out, and you look at the top teams contending and, usually, they have the top quarterbacks," San Diego coach Norv Turner said.

That alone lies the problem for the Raiders, who have been so unsure with their quarterback situation that they had six on their roster during on point during the summer.

"That's one spot that you need to have some continuity," Oakland coach Tom Cable said. "Certainly, it takes a special guy to be the guy and do it for more than a short period of time."

The Raiders are still looking for that guy, even though they thought they addressed that two years ago when they drafted Russell with the first overall pick and guaranteed him $31.5 million.

Russell started 25 games, went 7-18 before finally getting pulled three weeks ago in favor of Gradkowski, the 194th player taken in the 2006 draft who has 12 career starts.

"I think we tried to give (Russell) every opportunity," Cable said. "We made that clear and it just came to a point where we need to sit him and kind of let him look at the game, look at himself, look at what's going on and, hopefully, that will help him for his future."

In the interim, the job is Gradkowski's.

"I think it is tough to have a different quarterback year in and year out," Gradkowski said. "You see the teams that are successful in the NFL have a solid, stable quarterback. Whatever the case might be, that is what we need to do here in Oakland is have consistency in every position."

Gradkowski is off to a good start. He threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns in an upset of Cincinnati before losing to Dallas on Thanksgiving.

"When you have poor play at the quarterback position, it is hard for anybody to go out there and play," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said.

If anybody would know, it would be Ward.

In his 12 years with in the league, he has had seven quarterbacks start.

"To have Ben (Roethlisberger) here, and you know you have that rapport, it is kind of easy," Ward said. "You kind of feel one another."

Cable plans to give Gradkowski every opportunity to succeed and that's all the 26 year-old quarterback can ask for.

"It's not really about talent or ability," Gradkowski said. "It's about finding the right fit and the right opportunity and taking advantage of it. I feel good out here in Oakland. It's just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunity."

Coming home and being successful against his hometown team can go a long way in securing the position long term.

However, Gradkowski hasn't had success in Pittsburgh. He has never won at Heinz Field. He threw three interceptions in a 20-3 loss in 2006 while with Tampa Bay, and he went a miserable 5-of-16 for 18 yards and two interceptions last December with the Browns in a 31-0 loss.

Cable is in a wait-and-see mode with Gradkowski.

"Let's see how it goes," Cable said. "In this business, you kind of throw yourself into this job, you keep it, or you throw yourself out of it."

The quarterback Carosel

Ever since the Oakland Raiders last made the playoffs in 2002, they have had a carousel at quarterback with 10 different signal-callers getting starts with very similar results. Two others, Tee Martin and Rob Johnson, saw game action during the season, but did not start making the grand total of 12 quarterbacks played in 6.5 years.

QB: Starts/Record

Kerry Collins: 28/7-21

JaMarcus Russell: 25/7-18

*Rich Gannon: 10/4-6

Andrew Walter: 9/2-7

Josh McCown: 9/2-7

Rick Mirer: 8/2-6

Aaron Brooks: 8/0-8

Daunte Culpepper: 6/2-4

Bruce Gradkowski: 2/1-1

Marques Tuiasosopo: 2/0-2

*—Gannon started 64 consecutive games from 1999-2002 and had a record of 41-23.

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