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PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 06: Louis Murphy #18 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates his game winning touchdown with nine seconds left on the clock while playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 6, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Oakland won the game 27-24. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
THIS WASN'T AN answer to the Immaculate Reception. No, these Raiders still tout a dismal 4-8 record after Sunday's 27-24 upset of their longtime rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Those Steelers, the 1972 team that was the first to make the playoffs for the six-time Super Bowl winner, always will have Franco Harris.
But on this chilly December day along the Pittsburgh riverfront, karma may finally have come around. The result was a storybook ending that, indeed, belonged to the visitors. What an ending it was. Specifically, the winning drive, which provided a step-by-step recipe for Sunday's stunner.
A magical touchdown connection between the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward, one that normally would set off the usual losing alarms, instead was muted by the Raiders' ensuing drive.
Ten plays. Eighty-eight yards. With less than two minutes to play. By 15-point underdogs, marching their way to a crowd-silencing victory and sending the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (6-6) to a fourth straight loss.
The final drive made a hero of quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, whose Pennsylvania homecoming featured his first career 300-yard passing game and a tear-jerking postgame session with his family.
It vindicated rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy, who dropped no passes and instead caught four for 128 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with
nine seconds left.
It made coach Tom Cable's job seem secure for 2010. Maybe. That's never a safe bet. But his offense cruised in the clutch with an apparent mix of his play calls and some calls from Gradkowski on the fly via their two-minute drill.
It made quarterback JaMarcus Russell and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey seem like 2009 deadwood. Neither played: Russell got benched a second straight start and Heyward-Bey missed his first game with a sore foot.
Where to begin? How about at the Raiders' 12-yard line, with 1 minute, 48 seconds on the clock? First-and-10: Gradkowski, whose previous pass resulted in a 75-yard, go-ahead touchdown to Murphy at the 5:28 mark, found Johnnie Lee Higgins for a 17-yard sideline completion. First-and-10, Raiders 29-yard line: An incompletion, intended for Higgins. See, it wasn't an immaculate drive, not when Gradkowski completed only 5 of 10 "passes," as some seemed like jump shots. Second-and-10, Raiders 29: An incompletion, with Chaz Schilens getting drilled in the face mask by a defender. Third-and-10, Raiders 29: Gradkowski completed a 12-yard pass to Todd Watkins, Schilens' replacement. Other backups already in action: Center Chris Morris and left guard Langston Walker, summoned when Samson Satele and Robert Gallery suffered muscle strains earlier in the game. First-and-10, Raiders 41: An incompletion toward running back Justin Fargas, who noted: "Bruce's leadership showed, he didn't panic, he kept guys intense and made the throws when he needed." Pause here to imagine if Russell will ever fit those criteria. Second-and-10, Raiders 41: Gradkowski lobbed a pass 19 yards to Murphy, and cornerback William Gay was hurt on the play. Lobs like that one — and ensuing ones — would get intercepted if safety Troy Polamalu weren't missing his eighth game with a bum knee. First-and-10, Steelers 40: Gradkowski's pass was mercifully dropped by fill-in cornerback Joe Burnett at the Steelers 14. "We had the breaks fall our way," Gradkowski said. Second-and-10: This was the true Lob. Gradkowski hit the back of left tackle Mario Henderson while uncorking a high floater toward Murphy, who leapt over Ike Taylor for an improbable catch at the 17. "A couple times, I threw the ball up there because we needed to make plays," Gradkowski said. "I was like, 'Thank God,' when (Murphy) caught that one." First-and-10, Steelers 17: Delay of game. First-and-15, Steelers 22: Intended receiver Higgins was nailed in the helmet by safety Ryan Mundy, resulting in an unnecessary roughness penalty. First-and-10, Steelers 11: Gradkowski found Watkins in the back of the end zone. "Yeah!" yelled Cable on the sideline. But no, Watkins failed to make the catch. Second-and-10: A corner blitz forced Gradkowski to check off his primary target, tight end Zach Miller, and bide time before zipping the winning pass to Murphy in the end zone. "They brought a blitz and two guys jumped me, they squeezed me, and that left Murphy open," Miller said. "They paid extra attention to me today, and we finally exploited that."
Ensuing scene: Murphy skipped off the field twirling the football, right tackle Cornell Green stood on the Raiders bench and waved an imaginary Terrible Towel at the crowd, and the Raiders sideline went berserk when Ben Roethlisberger's last pass fell incomplete.
"We won today," Cable said in his parting words. "I hope you all write about that, because that's pretty cool."
Well said. By the winning coach.
Contact Cam Inman at email@example.com.