The Cincinnati Bengals were warned.
They knew Bruce Gradkwoski had a previous history of hunting big cats in the wild.
What they didn’t know was that sitting in the sparse crowd at the Coliseum on Sunday were the two most inspirational members of Raider Nation. Watching from the stands were three-year-old Delaney Cooper and her mother Rebekah – the daughter and wife, respectively, of Marquis Cooper.
Cooper’s presence was felt in the Coliseum the same Sunday when the two touchdown underdog Raiders defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. Justin Fargas proclaimed a wayward pigeon to be the spirit of Cooper seeing his duties though as a member of the kick coverage team.
All that being said, this affair got off to the exact start Marvin Lewis would have scripted for his team.
The Bengals jumped out to a 14-0 lead early thanks to a Raider defense that yielded multiple third-and-long conversions. Meanwhile, the newly minted Bruce Gradkowski offense did its best JaMarcus Russell with multiple three-and-outs that kept a winded defense on the field.
Finally, Nnamdi Asomugha got his troops to dig in and the defense stepped up the intensity. Marshall pulled from his bag of tricks and unleashed the Raider speed in the secondary. Tyvon Branch blitzed in to drop Carson Palmer and forced a fumble. Later, Stanford Routt blew past the Bengals to get to Palmer, knocking Cincinnati 18 yards back on a crucial Third and goal. That sack proved vital as Shayne Graham would end up missing a 37-yard kick.
Using the momentum of the defense, Gradkowski went to work methodically moving the Silver and Black downfield culminating in a TD pass to Zach Miller that brought the Raiders within striking distance at half time.
With the game on the line late in the second half, The Big Gradkowski engineered a clutch drive while Marvin Lewis suddenly realized he was watching Groundhog Day all over again.
Gradkowski didn’t make great plays he just made the right ones. Executing the offense to perfection and finally hitting Louis Murphy inside the five-yard line. Murphy fought through a Bengal defender, reaching for the goal line, putting 6 on the board. A Sebastian Janikowski extra point later and this game was all even at 17-17.
What happened next is the kind of effort that Tom Cable has so desired from his team all year long.
On the ensuing kick off, rookie Brandon Myers stripped the ball from Andre Caldwell and then fell on the loose pigskin.
Janikowski came on to boot a 33-yard field goal through the uprights and the first place Bengals were left wondering how a two touchdown lead become a three point loss.
There were many heroes for the Raiders in the 20-17 victory. Gradkowski made just enough plays to give his team the best chance to win. The defense held the Bengals to just three points in the second half. Myers made the play of the game.
Marquis Cooper’s presence is still felt in the locker room and it seems hardly coincidental that the biggest play of the game came on kick coverage.
This win was for Cooper and his family.
Now it is time to take this inspirational show on the road and ruin a few turkey dinners in Dallas on Thursday.
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Topics: Andre Caldwell, Brandon Myers, Bruce Gradkowski, Carson Palmer, JaMarcus Russell, John Marshall, Justin Fargas, Louis Murphy, Marquis Cooper, Marvin Lewis, Nnamdi Asomugha, Sebastian Janikowski, Shayne Graham, Stanford Routt, Tom Cable, Tyvon Branch, Zach Miller