9:00 PM ET, August 8, 2003
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Just as Bill Callahan suspected, the Oakland Raiders' defense appears ready for the season. Unfortunately for the fans at this preseason game, the St. Louis Rams' defense was just as prepared.Madre Hill rushed for 63 yards and a touchdown and Charles Woodson had an early interception as Oakland beat St. Louis 7-6 Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.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.The Raiders had a terrible start to last summer's preseason, losing to the Dallas Cowboys in a penalty-plagued game. This opener was much more impressive, according to Callahan."I thought we played faster defense than I've seen us play early in the year," the Oakland coach said. "I really believe they were fresh for this game, physically capable of bursting to the ball and really playing with the type of speed that we want to see this season."Case in point: On St. Louis' opening drive, Kurt 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.Anthony Dorsett also had an interception for the AFC champions. Rod Coleman sacked Warner to derail the Rams' second drive, and 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 preseason games last season. Still, St. Louis' impressive defense -- which held Oakland to 248 yards -- was heartening to 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 the first half, in which the teams combined for just seven first downs.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 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 elusive Gannon from behind for a sack during the Raiders' second drive.Though many of the costumed regulars in the Coliseum crowd already were in midseason form, the stadium was less than half full.