Early in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos, Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman fumbled the ball and walked dejectedly to the sidelines, where he sat alone on the bench with his head bowed.
That was the turning point for Kaufman, who came back later in the fourth with an 83-yard touchdown run in Oakland's 28-25 victory Sunday over the previously undefeated Broncos."When he fumbled that football, he came to me and said, `Just a couple more chances Joe, that's all I need,' " Raiders coach Joe Bugel said.
In contrast to the pensive display on the sidelines after the fumble, Kaufman was jubilant after his touchdown, leaping into the outstretched arms of his teammates and coaches.
Kaufman finished with a team-record 227 yards on 28 carries, surpassing Bo Jackson's 221 yards against Seattle in 1987. He insisted he wasn't necessarily gunning for the big play with his long scoring dash.
"I was just going to try to get the first down then the next thing you know, it opened up for me and nobody was there," he said.
Denver running back Terrell Davis, who came into the game as the AFC's top-ranked rusher and finished Sunday with 85 yards and two touchdowns, had nothing but praise for his speedy opponent.
"That's one guy who has been a forgotten back in the league, but he's as dangerous as any back there is and you could see that today," Davis said.
Kaufman wasn't the only Raider with a long dash Sunday. Safety Eric Turner returned John Elway's fumble 65 yards for a touchdown, putting the Raiders up 21-17 in the third quarter.
Jeff George added a 14-yard touchdown pass to James Jett, and threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Rickey Dudley in the first half. George finished 9-of-12 for 96 yards. He was intercepted once.
The focus, obviously, was not on Oakland's passing game: Bugel said the players knew they were going to have to run the ball against Denver (6-1). But more than that, the Raiders (3-4) knew they had to win.
"If we lost this game," tackle Pat Harlow said, "our season was probably over."
The victory snapped Oakland's four-game losing streak to Denver coach Mike Shanahan, who coached the Raiders for a year and a half before being fired in 1989.
"The guys were playing for respect," said receiver Tim Brown. "Sometimes that can take you a whole long way."
The Broncos, who started the day as the NFL's only undefeated team, tried to rally after Kaufman's decisive 83-yard run made it 28-17. Elway hit Ed McCaffrey with a 29-yard touchdown pass and then Davis ran for the 2-point conversion to get the Broncos within a field goal.
But on a third-and-10 with 1:12 remaining, Jeff George hit Tim Brown with a 15-yard pass, ensuring that Elway didn't get another shot at a last-second comeback.
Turner's fumble return helped turn the game for the Raiders, who came out in the second half looking discouraged after Davis' 3-yard scoring run put the Broncos up 17-14.
Elway was trying to scramble away from pressure in the pocket when Lance Johnstone hit him from the side, knocking the ball loose. Turner scooped it up on the run and took off down the sideline, picking up a block at the Denver 15 from James Trapp, who screened off Davis.
"I saw Terrell Davis coming but James Trapp came out of nowhere and did a great job stopping him for me," Turner said. "I just went to the end zone."
Oakland had given Denver a chance with Kaufman's fumble, but Tyrone Braxton, who recovered, was pulled down after a 22-yard return to the Oakland 36. The Broncos' drive stalled and Jason Elam missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, his second misfire of the day.
Elway finished 26-of-46 for 309 yards and a touchdown, the fourth quarter pass to McCaffery.