We've gone from not knowing what a catch is to not knowing what a first down is. On Sunday night, the Cowboys earned a first down on a crucial fourth-and-inches in the fourth quarter thanks to an unorthodox strategy of measuring for a first down involving a piece of paper.
The controversial play occurred during the Cowboys' winning drive against the Raiders. With under five minutes to go, the Cowboys went for a fourth-and-inches from their own 39-yard line. The stakes couldn't be much higher. Both the Cowboys and Raiders needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. And if the Cowboys failed to pick up a first down, the Raiders would've take over at the edge of field-goal range.
The Cowboys ran a quarterback sneak with Dak Prescott, who picked up the first down -- at least that's what referee Gene Steratore determined, with a little help.
After staring at the measurement for several seconds without being able to determine if the nose of the football reached the first-down marker, Steratore produced a piece of paper. He proceeded to slide the paper between the first-down marker and the nose of the football. Somehow, despite all of the technology that has taken over the game, Steratore decided Prescott's quarterback sneak reached the first-down marker by using a piece of paper.
According to Steratore, the paper was used only to confirm the call. He told reporters after the game that he "didn't use the card to make the final decision," and that the "final decision was made visually." And he didn't really explain how he used the card to reaffirm his decision.
If you're still wondering how that worked exactly ... well, you're not alone. Twitter had questions and jokes:
Raiders ball had Steratore used loose leaf— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) December 18, 2017
That first down call was paper thin.— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) December 18, 2017
Billion dollar industry. And we are using index cards.— Jason Lisk (@JasonLisk) December 18, 2017
That piece of paper the official just used to determine the first down needs a Twitter account.— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) December 18, 2017
“If this here index card stands at at 91 degree angle for 3.4367 ms then it’s a first down ... i guess .”— Tarik Cohen (@TarikCohen) December 18, 2017
49ers GM John Lynch offered a solution.
If you're wondering why Steratore's name sounds familiar, it's because.
The Raiders ended up giving up a field goal on that series. They then lost the game when Derek Carr fumbled inside the 5-yard line and the ball rolled out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. That's probably the worst way to lose a football game.
As a result, the Raiders are now 6-8 and surely missing the playoffs.