Updated: 7:30 p.m.
OAKLAND, Calif. - After two straight big divisional wins over Baltimore and Pittsburgh the last two weeks, the Bengals suffered a major letdown Sunday by letting the Oakland Raiders score 10 unanswered points in the last 33 seconds to steal a 20-17 win.
With the Bengals clinging to a 17-10 lead, the Raiders got the ball at their 20-yard line with 2:12 remaining. Oakland worked its way to the Bengals 45 and was facing a 4th-and-10 when Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski found wide receiver Chaz Schilens open over the middle for 16 yards to the Bengals 29. After an incomplete pass, Gradkowski connected with wide receiver Louis Murphy for a 29-yard scoring pass with 33 seconds to play. Murphy beat single coverage from backup cornerback Morgan Trent, caught the ball at the 1-yard-line, and muscled his way into the end zone with Trent trying to bring him down.
Then on the ensuing kickoff Andre Caldwell opted to run it out from one-yard deep in the end zone and fumbled at the 18 where Oakland's Brandon Myers fell on it, giving the Raiders possession at the 17. Three straight kneeldowns by Oakland brought on Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, and he nailed the 33-yard attempt with 15 seconds left to give the Raiders the win and drop the Bengals to 7-3 on the season.
Cincinnati maintained its one-game lead in the AFC North thanks to Kansas City's overtime victory over Pittsburgh earlier in the day.
Earlier, the Bengals bid to seal the win with another ball consuming drive with a 17-10 lead ended with 2:20 left in the game at midfield when quarterback Carson Palmer's pass down the sideline to running back Brian Leonard on third-and-four was a bit short, and punter Kevin Huber's attempt to pin the Raiders was blunted on a high snap that forced him to hurry and he kicked it into the end zone.
It was left to the Bengals defense as Oakland had the ball at their 25 at the two-minute warning with one of the worst pass offenses in the league.
After jumping to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter, the Bengals let the 2-7 Raiders hang around and around with a slim 17-10 lead and couldn't put them away with their first red-zone turnover in 43 possessions when fullback Jeremi Johnson fumbled inside the Oakland 15 with 11:31 left in the game.
The Bengals' bid to win their first game ever in Oakland in a string dating back to the franchise's first season of 1968 and extend their franchise record road winning streak to six was a monumental struggle.
The Bengals tried to pound the game away with the running game as Palmer had completed 12 of his first 17 passes for 189 yards when he got the ball at his own 10 with 7:45 left in the game trying to protect the 17-10 lead. But the Bengals went nowhere. The Raiders defended a short pass to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, rookie running back Bernard Scott lost two yards in the midst of his first career 100-yard game (119 yards on 21 carries), and Palmer was sacked near the goal line when Greg Ellis blew by right tackle Dennis Roland for a sack.
That forced a Huber punt that put Oakland in great shape at the Bengals 43 with six minutes left, but defensive end Jon Fanene got a great first-down rush to force Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph's diving interception over the middle at the Bengals 22 with 6:01 left.
It was Joseph's career-high fifth interception of the season.
After jumping to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter, the Bengals let the Raiders cut the lead to 14-10 on Janikowski's 52-yard field goal in the first five minutes of the second half and the Bengals could parlay two red-zone penetrations into only a 25-yard Shayne Graham field goal for a 17-10 lead with 3:29 left in the third quarter.
The Bengals defense provided a much needed lift with the Raiders hanging in at 14-10 and creeping to midfield when middle linebacker Dhani Jones came from across the field to pop running back Michael Bush on the sidelines. That forced a fumble scooped up by left end Robert Geathers and he lugged it 38 yards to the Raiders 13. But the sputtering Bengals offense could only manage six yards and when cornerback Stanford Routt knocked down a third-down pass to Caldwell in the slot short of the goal line, Graham came on to kick the 25-yarder that extended the lead to 17-10.
Meanwhile, Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko left with a right knee injury and his return was questionable.
Earlier in the third quarter, the Bengals blew six chances from the Raiders 8 and when Graham missed a 37-yard field goal wide right it was still 14-10 with 5:05 left.
Two weeks ago the Bengals were leading the NFL in scoring red-zone touchdowns, but they blew up after they had a first down at the Oakland 8. They got a fresh set of downs when Routt was called for roughing Palmer, but Routt was vindicated on third down from the 1 when he blitzed on a play-action rollout and drove Palmer back for an 18-yard sack that set up Graham's miss. The snap appeared to be low and not smooth on Graham's fifth miss of the season.
It spoiled Scott's stunning 61-yard run, courtesy of a vicious cutback on safety Tyvon Branch when Scott seemed all but stopped on the sideline. Scott patiently let the scrum roll into the bench and he took off to the middle of the field.
On the opening drive of the second half the Bengals gave up third-down conversions to Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on a seven-yard pass in front of Joseph and Bush powered up the middle to convert a third-and-short.
The Bengals did what they were supposed to do and went up 14-0 on Palmer's second rushing touchdown of the game with 7:12 left in the first half. Palmer, who had two rushing touchdowns in his entire career and none since 2005, now has three this season.
Then the Bengals did exactly what they weren't supposed to do and gave up Gradkowski's 10-yard touchdown pass to wide open tight end Zach Miller with 1:03 left in the half and let Oakland get into the locker room within a touchdown at 14-7, even though the Raiders had the ball only a little more than eight minutes.
And not before Janikowski attempted a 57-yarder not once, but twice, and he missed wide right and wide left. He got a second chance when the Bengals called a timeout just as he attempted the first one.
That followed a disturbing series in which the Bengals couldn't kill the half with the running game and they let the elusive Miller get away for a 19-yard catch.
The Bengals didn't get much pressure on Gradkowski in Oakland's scoring drive and he threw only the third Raiders touchdown pass of the season and his first in 116 attempts during his first start as a Raider and 13th of his NFL career.
Palmer had him outnumbered with 8-of-10 passing for 129 yards and a passer rating of 118.8. But the Bengals let Gradkowski put up a 95 rating in the half when they couldn't get their running game untracked in the absence of running back Cedric Benson, inactive with his sore hip.
The Bengals did manage 82 yards on the ground in 25 carries by five different rushers, but it was inconsistent.
The Bengals were living dangerously as they tried to go two games up in the AFC North on the Steelers, stunned in overtime in Kansas City just as the Bengals were getting underway. They did get good news at the end of the half. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Scott, nicked up late, were supposed to return. Raiders defensive end Richard Seymour was out for the game with a bad back.
Palmer snuck over from the 1 after a punishing rushing drive that set sail when Caldwell ran a reverse for 15 yards to the Raiders 41 to open the gates for Scott and Leonard. Leonard ran it three times for 20 yards and Scott unwound for sweeps to each side for a combined 17 yards before Palmer converted.
The Bengals defense followed that up with an immediate third-down stop when cornerback Leon Hall come from behind to break up a pass to Heyward-Bey.
With Benson inactive and Larry Johnson waiting his turn, Scott picked up 34 yards on his first 11 carries and Leonard picked up 22 on five carries as the Bengals built the lead.
Then Johnson made his Bengals debut with five minutes left and lost three yards on his first carry when there was nothing on the left side, and then he popped eight yards up the middle on the next carry.
After no mental mistakes on the offensive line last week in Pittsburgh, the Bengals stumbled into the Raiders Black Hole and committed two false starts and one delay of game while watching Scott muster minus-three yards on his first four carries.
But Palmer hit five of his first six passes for 91 yards and gave the Bengals a 7-0 lead on his one-yard scramble for a touchdown capping a 14-play drive that consumed the game's first 9:32.
Palmer got the Bengals out of huge holes with a 23-yard screen pass to Scott on second-and-23 and a 32-yarder to wide receiver Chad Ochocinco over the middle on third-and-20. The Ocho converted a third-and-five in the red zone on a slant in front of safety Michael Huff and held on to the ball at the 1 in the face of middle linebacker Kirk Morrison's big hit to set up Palmer's scoring run.
Palmer rolled out on first down with Whitworth lined up as an eligible receiver, but tucked when no one was open and dove near the pylon.
The Bengals rolled up 130 yards of offense to the Raiders' 13 in the first quarter but Ochocinco's second false start of the game early in the second quarter set up a third-and-seven. When the Bengals failed to pick up blitzing safety Tyvon Branch, he stripped the ball from Palmer and when Branch fumbled it, Morrison recovered the bouncing ball all the way at the Cincinnati 34.
But Gradkowski, in his first Raiders start, fumbled the second-down snap and it was recovered by Bengals defensive tackle Domata Peko.
PREGAME NOTES:Even though Benson wasn't active Sunday, he looked pretty good loosening up in pregame warmups at The Oakland Coliseum under chilly, cloudy skies spitting rain.
Also not active were left guard Evan Mathis (ankle) and WILL linebacker Keith Rivers (calf). Also down for the 10th straight game to open the season were right tackle Andre Smith, tight end Chase Coffman and wide receiver Jerome Simpson. Fullback Fui Vakapuna is also down for the third straight game since he rejoined the team.
Under the direction of strength coach Chip Morton, Benson went through a variety of flexibility exercises for his sore hip muscle and didn't appear to flinch or show any pain. It looks like he'll be ready for next week at Paul Brown Stadium against the Browns.
Rookie Bernard Scott is expected to get his first NFL start against the Raiders in place of Benson with Larry Johnson on deck.
But how much Johnson is going to play after signing with the Bengals on Monday and with just three practices under his belt is anyone's guess. All indications are that the coaches are going to see how the game goes and respond accordingly. So he could get anywhere between five to 15 carries. But there is no question that he had a good week of practice with a good amount of work with quarterback Carson Palmer.
"Not surprised. Just been pleased," said head coach Marvin Lewis after Friday's practice. "He's been able to make a lot of adjustments very quickly. He's done really well. We've been pleased ... a smart veteran guy. That's key. Because you're making an association. 'This is what I used to know. Now it's this.' "
Johnson comes in with a resumé that would indicate a busier day than normal for a guy who just joined the team. Because of his six and a half seasons in the AFC West with the Chiefs, his 938 yards and five 100-yard games against the Raiders are his best against any team. He also already has 24 carries against the Raiders this season for 78 yards in Oakland's 13-10 win Sept. 20.
Given how good Benson looked Sunday and Lewis saying that Rivers and Mathis are healing quickly, all three very well could be ready for the Browns.
Although the Raiders are 2-7 and struggling on offense with 9.8 points per game, their defense is formidable the closer foes get to the goal line. They are ranked 24th overall in the league in defense, but are ninth when it comes to stopping teams from scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The Bengals were first punching it in from the red zone until last week, when the Steelers held them to three field goals.
The Bengals came out in 55-degree weather dressed in their all white uniforms, which has proven to be their most unsuccessful combination at 6-11. Lewis introduced the offense as a unit in front of a half-empty stadium that put the local area through another Raiders blackout.
The Bengals won the toss, chose to receive and even though he was starting at running back they sent back Scott to receive after his return heroics in Pittsburgh. He returned it 15 yards. Leonard got the start at running back and gained a yard on his first carry.