Russell leads game-winning drive vs Denver

JaMarcus Russell hasn't had much reason to celebrate this season, not after losing his starting job then being demoted even further down the Raiders' depth chart. Yet Russell might have come up with a career-saving drive when he led Oakland to a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter against Denver on Sunday, driving a dent into the Broncos' playoff hopes.

A lot has been written and said about JaMarcus Russell's season this year and his future with the Oakland Raiders beyond 2010, most of it negative.

For once, the critics will have to quiet down a little.

Russell, who was benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski then was dealt the ultimate slam when he was passed over in favor of third stringer Charlie Frye when it came to starting Sunday's game against Denver, was pressed into duty when Frye suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter after getting drilled by Broncos' linebacker Andre Davis.

The sight of No. 2 trotting onto the field no doubt made Oakland fans across the country cringe and curse, and it didn't help matters when Russell burned a timeout and fumbled after being hit.

Russell also got knocked out of the game momentarily, forcing the Raiders to bring in newly signed J.P. Losman. But when he returned one play later, Russell looked much like the player Oakland had hoped for.

He completed a fourth-and-10 pass to tight end Tony Stewart, found Stewart for a 9-yard gain, then hit Chaz Schilens for a 13-yard completion. After an incompletion to Johnnie Lee Higgins, Russell completed a short pass to Schilens but Denver was called for illegal contact, giving Oakland a first-and-goal at the 5. A penalty pushed the Raiders back to the 10, and following one incompletion, Russell threw a strike to Schilens who caught the ball at the 4 and shook free to race into the end zone for the game-winning score.

"We had to put it in JaMarcus's hands," Raiders coach Tom Cable said. "I am happy for him to go in there and be able to get a result like that, and make a couple connections with guys and throw a game-winner, and Chaz makes a great effort to score the touchdown. But I'm really happy for JaMarcus and I think this gives him some life and a breath of fresh air."

If anyone ever needed it, it was Russell.

Since getting benched about a month ago, Russell has been the subject of major criticism. Fans and pundits have written him off as a bust, many of them calling for Oakland to cut him.

He certainly won't win over the Raider Nation based on one drive but it's a definite step in the right direction, especially coming against one of the franchise's most hated rivals.

"They all are special but one like this, it's pretty high," said Russell, who was given a game ball by Cable after the win. "I always say everybody has their opinion, and as long as my teammates have faith, and what I have faith in those guys. There's always going to be tough times. It's how you come up from behind and fight those tough times off."

Russell's numbers (5-for-11, 47 yards) aren't overly impressive and he still missed throws to open receivers. In fact, Cable made it clear that if Frye is cleared to play next week in Cleveland that he will be the starter.

But for one day, a day when he was in the perfect situation to be the goat again, Russell came up big.

"You've got to be so happy for him," cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. "There was a point where, before he went down, I was, like, ‘Oh, man, this is his chance to drive down, win the game and have people just get off him a little bit.' Then he got hurt, and I was, like, ‘What's going on?' Then he got back in there and finished it off. I'm very happy for him. It's good to have nights when you can sleep well, and this is definitely going to be one of those for him."

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