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fordfixer
12-07-2009, 07:41 AM
Fiery Gradkowski sparks Raiders' comeback

By Mark Kaboly, Daily News Sports Editor
Monday, December 7, 2009
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 56554.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_656554.html)

With less than a minute left in the game and the Oakland Raiders driving for the go-ahead score, an injury to Steelers cornerback William Gay forced an extended stoppage.

That's when Oakland left tackle Mario Henderson gazed up at the Jumbotron in the south end zone of Heinz Field to see if he blocked the correct person on the previous play.

Not a very wise choice when you are down four points, have the ball at the opponent's 40-yard-line and only 41 seconds remain in the game.

And it wasn't especially a wise choice when you are standing in Seton-La Salle graduate Bruce Gradkowski's huddle.

Henderson learned that the hard way.

"He said, 'Come on, man, stop (expletive) looking at that (expletive)," Henderson said.

Henderson, who is 6-foot-7, 300 pounds, paused for a second before processing the words directed at him from a guy who has been the Raiders' starting quarterback for just three games.

"I looked at him like 'Who the hell you talking to?'" Henderson said. "I was like 'You talking to me?' Then, I was like, 'OK, you're right. You the man, you the man, Bruce.'"

Gradkowski was the man for the Raiders yesterday.

Two plays later, Gradkowski completed a 23-yard pass to Louis Murphy. Three plays after that, Gradkowski threw his third touchdown pass in a span of eight minutes to lead Oakland to a stunning upset of the two-touchdown favored Steelers, 27-24.

"That showed me how much of a leader he is," Henderson said. "He demands the attention of the huddle and that's good."

Winning for the second time in three chances since replacing former first-round pick JaMarcus Russell as starting quarterback, Gradkowski is starting to make a believer out of his teammates.

"You have to," Henderson said. "He is proving it. You have no other choice because you see what happens."

Gradkowski, who had never enjoyed any success at Heinz Field in his career, threw for a career-high 308 yards and a three touchdowns -- all in the fourth quarter -- in the win.

That's a far cry from the last time he played here. Last year, while playing for Cleveland, Gradkowski completed 5 of 16 passes for 18 yards.

"I can't even put into words what I feel," Gradkowski said. "It's exciting to come home to Pittsburgh. It has been awesome to be able to come back here and be able to share this with my family."

Gradkowski has been a culture shock to the Raiders with his play and attitude. Russell was criticized for his lack of passion for the game during his time running the offense.

Gradkowski will never be labeled the same.

"He is a fired up guy," Raiders running back Justin Fargas said. "The competitive nature comes out verbally, physically and that is the type of inspiration we need."

Being a vocal leader is just how Gradkowski says he plays the game.

"Guys need a leader and offensively, I am going to be the leader until coach says otherwise," he said.

At this point, that might be a long time down the road.