OAKLAND, Calif. -- Before the season even started, the Oakland Raiders picked this week's game to dedicate to Marquis Cooper, their former special teams star who died in a boating accident earlier this year.
With Cooper's family watching, it was only fitting that it was the type of special teams play Cooper took so much pride in that decided this game.
Bruce Gradkowski threw a 29-yard game-tying touchdown pass to Louis Murphy with 33 seconds left and Brandon Myers forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to set up Sebastian Janikowski's game-winning 33-yard field goal that gave the Raiders a 20-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
"He caused the fumble," linebacker Sam Williams said. "That was unbelievable."
Cooper died in a boating mishap off the Florida coast earlier this year. He went on the trip with three friends on Feb. 28, but their boat capsized about 70 miles west of Clearwater as the men tried to free a stuck anchor.
Cooper, free-agent NFL defensive lineman Corey Smith and former South Florida player William Bleakley died in the accident. Nick Schuyler, also a former USF player, was the only survivor.
Williams and Justin Fargas showed Cooper's wife, Rebekah, mother, Donna, and 3-year-old daughter, Delaney, around this weekend, allowing Rebekah to see the locker where her late husband prepared for games after joining the Raiders last season. After the game, coach Tom Cable told the team that the only game ball would be presented to Cooper's family.
"Before the game his 4-year-old daughter said she was excited to watch the game. She said, 'I get to see my daddy play!' " Williams said. "Man. I just spread the word and everybody felt the emotions of that. It was special."
It took nearly all 60 minutes, four turnovers and a thrilling comeback for the Raiders (3-7) to improve to 10-0 all time in Oakland against the Bengals (7-3), including one playoff win.
But this had to be one of the most painful for Cincinnati. The Bengals maintained their one-game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC North after the Steelers lost in overtime at Kansas City, yet this loss could prove critical to seedings or even a playoff berth down the stretch.
"Coach [Marvin] Lewis talks about it all the time, about really stealing games on the road," receiver Chad Ochocinco said. "These are one of the teams -- no disrespect to them -- that we should have had the game."
Oakland rallied from an early 14-point deficit and trailed 17-10 with 2:06 left and the ball at the 20. Gradkowski, who took the starting job from JaMarcus Russell this week, threw a 19-yard pass to Zach Miller, then a 16-yarder to Chaz Schilens on fourth-and-10.
After a spike, Gradkowski found Murphy near the goal line. Murphy got loose from Morgan Trent and dived across the goal line for the tying score.
"As a team, we're not really known for fighting back, and we came back," Murphy said.
Just when it seemed the game was headed to overtime, Andre Caldwell fumbled the kickoff return, giving the Raiders the ball at the 17. After three kneel-downs, Janikowski delivered the winning kick, setting off a celebration in the crowd of 34,112. Nnamdi Asomugha intercepted a last-ditch pass from Carson Palmer to seal the victory.
"We came out today and didn't play well enough to win," Palmer said. "It's not something we need to sit around and talk about. The point is we lost. Anybody is capable of beating you on any day of the week no matter how good you think you are. When it comes down to it, you have to make plays and beat teams you're supposed to beat, and we didn't do that today."
The Bengals scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives, but managed only three more points the rest of the way. Fullback Jeremi Johnson fumbled at the Oakland 15 with Cincinnati leading 17-10 and Shayne Graham also missed a 37-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Palmer completed 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards and became the first Bengals quarterback to run for two touchdowns in a game since Jack Thompson in 1979. Rookie Bernard Scott ran for a season-high 119 yards in place of the injured Cedric Benson.
Gradkowski replaced Russell in two of the past three games, but was unable to lead a single scoring drive. He did plenty with an entire week to prepare, giving the Raiders their first two-touchdown game since the opener.
He connected on a 10-yarder to Miller in the second quarter and then the tying TD to Murphy. He finished 17 for 34 for 183 yards, with two turnovers, including an interception with 6 minutes left that almost cost Oakland the game.
"We're just fortunate the defense did a great job, got the ball back," Gradkowski said. "We made a couple plays and that's it."
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