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Setting the tone

Raiders' 7-6 win highlighted by C. Woodson's early pick

Posted: Saturday August 09, 2003 12:12 AM
Updated: Saturday August 09, 2003 1:22 AM
  Rich Gannon, Grant Wistrom Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon is pursued by Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom. AP

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Charles Woodson watched Kurt Warner's eyes, nimbly changing direction after Warner released his pass. The football hit Woodson's hands -- and even in an exhibition, the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback got a thrill.

Woodson intercepted Warner on the Rams' first series, and Madre Hill rushed for 63 yards and a score as the Oakland Raiders beat St. Louis 7-6 Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.

Woodson missed the Pro Bowl last winter for the first time in his five NFL seasons after injuring his shoulder, leg and groin. The injuries reduced him to a shadow of his Heisman Trophy-winning self, keeping him out of eight regular-season games and forcing him to play at half-strength in the playoffs.

But on St. Louis' opening drive, Warner missed his target -- and Woodson alertly changed his coverage to pick off the pass, returning it 15 yards.

"Hopefully they'll just keep rolling in," Woodson said. "I'd rather have mine when the season starts. ... Any time you get a chance to get your hands on the ball, it feels good, so hopefully I'll get a bunch of those this year."

Marshall Faulk was a last-minute scratch for the Rams, giving the starting assignment to Lamar Gordon, who rushed for 55 yards. The Rams didn't say why Faulk didn't play.

Excitement was scarce in a defense-dominated game. St. Louis rookie Kirk Farmer threw a 9-yard TD pass to Cam Cleeland with 6:13 to play, but the extra point was blocked by Raiders rookie Shurron Pierson.

Anthony Dorsett also had an interception for the AFC champions. Rod Coleman sacked Warner to derail the Rams' second drive, while Eric Johnson and rookies Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and David Moretti also had sacks.

"You can see the veteran presence on our defense," Dorsett said. "We know each other real well. There's not a lot of mistakes out there, even in the preseason."

Marc Bulger was 11-of-16 for 104 yards for the Rams, 0-4 in exhibitions last season. Still, St. Louis' impressive defense -- which held Oakland to 248 yards -- was heartening to head coach Mike Martz.

"There were a lot of things that came out of this that I was very pleased with," he said. "[But] the two interceptions and the special teams play, I wasn't very pleased with."

The Rams couldn't score until Farmer led them on an 88-yard drive. But Gbaja-Biamila got another sack at midfield with 1:45 to play, and Farmer's final two passes fell incomplete.

Farmer was 8-for-13 for 130 yards, and Martz said the underdog rookie from Missouri "will be our third quarterback at this point."

Hill set up his 1-yard TD plunge late in the second quarter with a 50-yard run. It was the most exciting play of a first half that revealed both defenses are predictably more primed than the offenses.

The teams combined for just seven first downs in the half. Warner and Pro Bowl selection Rich Gannon got two series apiece, and neither did much.

Warner was 3-for-4 for 18 yards in his first action since last Dec. 1. The former MVP went 0-6 as a starter last season while battling injuries and inconsistency.

"It wasn't too bad for the first time back out there," said Warner, who also took a vicious hit from Raiders lineman John Parrella. "Obviously, I made the one mistake, but we're going to learn and get better."

Marques Tuiasosopo, who didn't throw a pass as Gannon's backup last season, went 6-of-10 for 57 yards.

Grant Wistrom was a last-minute addition to the Rams' starting lineup at defensive end. He missed the first week of training camp -- but he showed remarkable speed for a player with swollen feet, running down the elusive Gannon from behind for a sack during the Raiders' second drive.

Bulger's first drive ended inside the Oakland 25 when the Rams couldn't convert a fourth-and-1. Bulger led the Rams on another lengthy drive late in the second quarter, but Dorsett stepped in front of his pass to Kevin Curtis at the goal line.

"We could have called better plays for Marc," Martz said. "The play we called on the interception was the worst play you could call for that type of coverage."

Though many of the costumed regulars in the Coliseum crowd already were in midseason form, the stadium was less than half-full.

 
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