OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott will return from suspension to a Dallas Cowboys team still in the playoff hunt thanks to a first down gained by the width of an index card and a fumble just shy of the end zone.
Dan Bailey kicked the go-ahead, 19-yard field goal after Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the slimmest of margins and the Cowboys survived a last-minute drive by Oakland when Derek Carr fumbled just short of the end zone to give Dallas a 20-17 victory Sunday night in their final game without Elliott.
After losing the first three games with Elliott sidelined for his domestic violence suspension, the Cowboys (8-6) have won three straight to get back into contention heading into the final two-game stretch against Seattle and Philadelphia.
“He gives us an extra boost because of his personality and who he is,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “He gets guys going with his attitude, the passion and love for the game. Just seeing him back will make us play that much more harder. Can’t wait.”
Dallas is in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NFC, a half-game behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. The Falcons, who play at Tampa Bay on Monday night, beat the Cowboys head-to-head.
Elliott’s return wouldn’t have been nearly as meaningful if not for a crazy final five minutes that gave Dallas the win over Oakland (6-8).
The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.
Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn’t clear. He then tried to slide an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn’t slide through, Steratore signaled a first down for Dallas (8-6). He said he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement and said the card only was a “reaffirmation of what was visually done.”
“I had a different viewpoint. I saw air,” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job.”
Prescott then hit Bryant with a 40-yard pass that set up Bailey’s short kick with 1:44 to play that gave the Cowboys the lead.
But the game was far from over. The Raiders (6-8) got a gift when Jourdan Lewis committed a 55-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30. Carr then scrambled on third-and-3 from the 8 and reached out for the end zone. But the ball came loose before crossing the goal line and went out of the end zone for a touchback that all but ended Oakland’s playoff hopes . The Raiders are tied for ninth in the AFC.
“I tried to hold onto it,” Carr said. “It wasn’t like I didn’t try. But there’s obviously a lot of different things, throw it away, kick a field goal, run out of bounds. OK, cool. But in that moment I was just trying to win for my teammates.”
Here are some other takeaways:
SAME REF, DIFFERENT RESULT: Steratore was part of another famous call that went against the Cowboys. In a playoff game in Green Bay following the 2014 season, Bryant appeared to catch a fourth-down pass that would have put Dallas in position for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. Steratore ruled on replay that Bryant didn’t complete the process of the catch and Cowboys lost the game.
“I know he still thinks about that (call) when he goes to sleep at night,” Bryant said of Steratore. “But we got that ‘W’ tonight so I guess that replaces that. Well, nothing replaces that.”
MISSING CRAB: Michael Crabtree caught two TD passes and drew the key pass interference penalty on the final drive but wasn’t on the field for Oakland’s final play. The officials pulled Crabtree out because of suspicion that he might have a concussion. That forced Oakland to change its play and left Crabtree upset after the game when he was cleared of any potential concussion.
“I just don’t understand why they took me out of the last play of the game,” he said. “They put me in concussion protocol like two plays after the pass-interference call. I don’t know. I’m lost. I don’t understand.”
DAK’S STRUGGLES: Prescott was far from sharp, throwing two interceptions no touchdowns and posting a 59.5 passer rating that was his lowest ever in a win. The last time Dallas won a game where the offense threw for no touchdowns and had at least two interceptions was Dec. 3, 2006, at the Giants with Tony Romo at quarterback.
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