Raiders defeat Rams in preseason opener

Saturday, August 9, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Kurt Warner can spread the warning to the rest of the NFL's quarterbacks: Charles Woodson is healthy and hungry again.

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 both teams' colorless exhibition opener.

St. Louis fourth-stringer 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.

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.

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

"It felt good," Woodson said of his first game this summer. "It's the time of the season where everybody is ready for football. 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."

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

Marc Bulger was 11-of-16 for 104 yards for the Rams, who got off to another weak preseason start following last season's 0-4 showing.

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.

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 teams' defenses to be 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 star did much.

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 immediately announce why Faulk didn't play.

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.

Leonard Little also got an excellent sack for the Rams, bursting past Pro Bowl lineman Lincoln Kennedy to flatten Tuiasosopo.

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.

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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