Cowboys vs. Raiders score, takeaways: Dallas wins by thinnest of margins
The Cowboys move to 8-6 and are still in the playoff race with two regular-season games to go
The Raiders took the first half off and the Cowboys jumped out to a 10-0 lead. Then, over the final 30 minutes, Oakland scored 17 points, and were a yard, a fumble, and a stupid NFL rule away from pulling off a huge late-season victory that would immeasurably improve their playoff chances.
Instead, Derek Carr was victimized the the fumble-out-of-the-end-zone-for-a-touchback rule with 30 seconds to go and Oakland trailing by three points, and one kneeldown later, the Cowboys escaped with the 20-17 victory.
But here's the thing: Dallas deserved to lose this game if only for the series that preceded the untimely Carr fumble. The drive began on their own 30 and 10 plays later, the Cowboys' offense found itself facing a fourth-and-goal from the Raiders' 1-yard line. This is where we point out that the Raiders have NFL's worst defense and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is young, athletic, previously just converted a fourth-and-inches, and oh by the way, he's built like a linebacker.
Naturally, coach Jason Garrett settled for the field goal to take a three-point lead. The Raiders got the ball back with two timeouts and 1:38 on the clock, and Carr promptly marched them 88 yards down the field until dumb luck and a dumber rule intervened:
And before you say, "Sure, it's easy for you to whine about Garrett not taking chances with the game on the line, but he made the right call -- look at the results!" let me remind you of the very same Jason Garrett, a quarter earlier.
Tied at 10 midway through the third quarter and facing a fourth-and-11 from the Cowboys' own 24-yard line, Garrett green-lit a fake punt. The result: a 24-yard gain.
And six plays after that? Prescott scored from five yards out to make it 17-10. The lesson: It's OK to take chances. What isn't OK is to turtle up in the game's biggest moments and hope for Carr to wing the ball out of the end zone for a touchback. And while we don't think that was specifically Garrett's plan, we also wouldn't be shocked if he told reporters in his postgame comments, "Yes, we ran the numbers and our models suggested that Carr would wing the ball out of the end zone for a touchback in that situation. It's a win for football analytics, as far as I'm concerned."
So while neither team has been eliminated from the playoffs, the Cowboys are in much better shape heading into Week 16. But before we sort all that out, here are four more takeaways from Sunday night.
An index card was used in determining a first down
In a billion-dollar industry that touts technology at every turn, it came down tohastily removed from referee Gene Steratore's pocket that determined whether Dak Prescott converted on fourth-and-inches on the Cowboys' penultimate drive that ended with the aforementioned field goal.
And that, folks, is a first down! It's worth noting that Steratore was officiating his first Cowboys game since the infamous Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't. So naturally, the first-down ruling led to tweets like this:
The bottom line: This seems like an terrible way to determine a first down, though Steratore said after the game that the card was "just for affirmation" because the "decision was [already] made."
Either way, three plays later, Prescott hit Bryant on a 40-yarder to set up that field goal that makes us angry every time we think about it:
Derek Carr's enigmatic season continues
A season ago, Carr was a legit MVP candidate and the Raiders were the team nobody wanted to face in the playoffs. Then Carr broke his leg in Week 16 and Oakland's season was effectively over. Here's the good news: Through 14 weeks of the 2017 season, some of Carr's numbers look a lot like they did in 2016. He's completing 63.8 percent of his throws (same as last season) for 7.0 yards per attempt (same as last season). But his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 4.7-to-1 last year, and is 2-to-1 this year. He also ranked sixth in value per play among all passers in '16; he's down to 11th now.
That's certainly not terrible, but Carr has been just a little off all season. And an incompletion here, a miscommunication there, and a fumble through the back of the end zone for a touchback can derail a season.
On Sunday night, Carr was 21 of 38 for 171 yards. That works out to 4.5 yards per attempt, though he also threw two touchdowns to Michael Crabtree, including this one early in the fourth quarter to tie the score:
This isn't all on Carr, of course. The defense is a mess, and the Raiders squandered opportunities all night against the Cowboys. They were flagged for offensive pass interference at the end of the first half that negated a Jared Cook touchdown, and they also honked a 39-yard field goal.
And while this won't make Raiders fans or Carr feel any better right now, the quarterback did become the fastest Raiders passer in history to toss 100 touchdowns.
The Cowboys survived six weeks without Zeke
Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension is officially over. The Cowboys went 3-3 during his absence, though the running game still ranks second in the league behind only the Saints. Still, no one is mistaking Elliott for Alfred Morris , especially with games against the Seahawks and the Eagles remaining.
In case you're wondering, Elliott says he's in shape and here's the visual proof:
Before his suspension, conventional wisdom was that Elliott was the Cowboys' most valuable player. Turns out, that honor goes to left tackle Tyron Smith. when Smith couldn't play because of a groin injury and his replacements, Chaz Green and Byron Bell, combined to give up eight sacks. Eight.
Unfortunately, Smith left Sunday's game with a knee injury. And if he can't go next week, that's even more pressure on Prescott, Elliott and the rest of the offense.
The Cowboys improve to 8-6 but are still the No. 9 seed in the NFC with the Falcons, Lions and Seahawks between them and the final wild-card spot. And in order to make up that ground, here's what needs to happen: Dallas has to win out against the Seahawks and Eagles, Detroit needs to lose once, and the Falcons, Panthers or Saints need to lose twice.
The Raiders, meanwhile, drop to 6-8 but haven't yet been eliminated. In fact, like the Cowboys in the NFC, the Raiders are a ninth seed, with the Bills, Ravens, and Chargers between them and the No. 6 seed. Their road to the postseason is slightly more complicated than the Cowboys', but it starts with winning against the Eagles and Chargers -- on the road, no less -- during the next two weeks.
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