Schilens caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Russell with 35 seconds left that gave the Raiders a 20-19 scrum-filled win on Sunday that dealt a serious blow to the Broncos' playoff hopes.
"They're all special, but this one's pretty high," said Russell, who was benched a month ago and passed by Charlie Frye on the depth chart this week.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick entered when Frye was knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter when he struck his head on the ground after a hard hit from linebacker Andra Davis.
The Broncos (8-6) are still in the AFC wild-card hunt but they were expecting a win over Oakland (5-9), who won at Invesco Field for the second straight season thanks to Russell. Now, they'll likely have to win at Philadelphia and beat Kansas City at home to end their three-year playoff drought.
"We have no margin for error," defensive end Vonnie Holliday said. "The sense of urgency was supposed to be today. And unfortunately it wasn't."
Although Russell and Schilens delivered the knockout, it was a heads-up play by Raiders cornerback Stanford Routt that enabled Oakland to pull off the upset.
With the Broncos ahead 16-13 in the closing minutes, Brandon Stokley hauled in a pass from Kyle Orton and raced 63 yards before being horse-collared by Routt at the Oakland 4. The penalty saved the game-clinching touchdown and gave the Broncos the ball at the 2.
Once again, the Broncos couldn't punch it in from close. They settled for Matt Prater's fourth field goal that made it 19-13 and left the Raiders within a touchdown with less than six minutes left.
"I just had to go get him. You never let somebody just run into the end zone, you know what I mean? You never do that," Routt said. "I just grabbed him and tried to bring him down. I didn't know it was illegal. I mean I didn't hurt him or nothing. I grabbed his neck and he came down."
Routt didn't realize the flag would only give the Broncos 2 yards or that they might have to settle for another field goal. He was just trying to save the score -- and the Broncos are 11-for-22 in goal-to-go situations this season.
This failure hurt the most.
"You get down there you've got to score a touchdown," Stokley said. "Those end up coming back and costing you the game."
After Prater made it 19-13, the Raiders went three-and-out and punted with four minutes left. But the Broncos also went three-and-out and punted it back to Oakland with 3:29 left.
Then, the Raiders came up with a series of big plays.
Louis Murphy drew a 32-yard pass interference flag on cornerback Andre' Goodman on second-and-25 and tight end Tony Stewart caught an 11-yard pass from Russell on fourth-and-10 from the 43 just before the 2-minute warning.
After a false start moved them back to the 10-yard line with 39 seconds left, Schilens ran a crossing route, caught Russell's pass at the 2 and broke a tackle from rookie Alphonso Smith for the score.
"I'll have to watch the film to see what happened," Broncos safety Brian Dawkins said. "Great route, great throw, great catch. We had a couple of opportunities to get off the field before that, so it shouldn't have come to that."
"All week we preached going into this game, we knew they have a young quarterback coming in, they don't want to put a lot of pressure on this guy, the running game's going to be big," Holliday said. "They've got a three-headed monster back there [with Justin Fargas]. Big, bruising backs, physical, fast. You've got to know that's going to be a big part of their game plan, make it easy on their quarterback. And we didn't step up and answer the challenge."
Frye was 9 for 17 for 68 yards and an interception, plus a 26-yard scamper on his only keeper. He had not played this season and worked strictly with Oakland's scout team. His last start was for Seattle on Oct. 12, 2008, against Green Bay.
Russell was knocked out for one play on the winning drive and newly signed J.P. Losman took a snap, throwing an incompletion while also getting knocked down.
So, who's the Raiders' starting quarterback now?
"We'll have to sort through the bodies on the way home and we'll decide," said Raiders coach Tom Cable, indicating that if Frye is healthy, he's his guy.
Mitch Berger's 7-yard punt set up Oakland's first score, a 23-yard untouched run by Bush up the middle. ... The game was halted for a few minutes with 6:53 left after a fan shined a laser on the players from the south end zone while the Broncos were lined up on second-and-goal. ... Promoted from the practice squad Saturday, Broncos rookie DB Tony Carter knocked away a possible touchdown catch by Schilens and recovered a fumble by McFadden.