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Cowboys @ Raiders: Close call, but Dallas stays alive with 20-17 win

It was incredibly close, in more ways than one, and the Cowboys escaped as much as anything.

Dallas Cowboys v Oakland Raiders Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images

It was a game that both the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders needed to win as they nurse fading hopes for the playoffs. It would come down to the last seconds of the game, and take a nearly miraculous play at the end of the game to give the Cowboys a badly needed 20-17 win. It was a real heartbreaker for the Raiders to lose it the way they did, but Dallas will take it as they remain alive in the playoff hunt, however faintly.

As will be in just about every story you read tonight about the game, it featured what is arguably the closest measurement ever for a first down. At their own 39, with only 5:06 left in a tie game, the Cowboys went for it on fourth and one. In a game where Jason Garrett was not afraid to do much of anything, Dallas went with a quarterback sneak. From the replay, it was very hard to tell exactly where Dak Prescott got the ball, and when things were sorted out and the chains brought out, it was so close that referee Gene Steratore pulled out a folded card - and determined that the ball was just barely at the mark to make. It kept the drive alive, and with the help of a 40 yard reception by Dez Bryant, the Cowboys were able to take the lead with a short Dan Bailey field goal after the Raiders mounted a goal line stand.

The ensuing kickoff left Oakland with 1:38 on the clock, and 89 yards of field to cover after a penalty. But after Anthony Brown dropped an interception he had right in his arms, Jourdan Lewis got schooled by Michael Crabtree, who played more to draw the flag than catch the ball. That put the ball at the Cowboys 15. But salvation came on second and third from the Cowboys’ eight yard line, as Derek Carr tried to run it in and Jeff Heath, who just keeps making big plays down the stretch, was able to catch Carr as he dove for the end zone. Carr extended the ball, which came out of his hand just a foot or so short of the end zone, and it went through for a touchback, salvaging the win for Dallas.

It was a game when Prescott was not sharp and the pass rush again couldn’t get a sack, but the Raiders couldn’t capitalize themselves, and in the end, the biggest breaks wound up favoring Dallas.

Earlier in the game, the Cowboys found themselves again without Tyron Smith, injured late in the third quarter, and went with Byron Bell to fill in. It was a drive Dallas needed to regain their footing after struggling coming out of halftime, and it looked like it would end on a fourth and 11 punt from their own 24, but gamblin’ Garrett called a fake punt and Chris Jones ran it all the way out to the Dallas 48. A pass interference call drawn by Jason Witten, Bryant’s first catch of the night for 19 yards on first and 20, and a five yard scramble by Prescott would get them the touchdown to regain the lead. The drive also included a failed flea flicker as it was evident that Dallas would leave nothing on the table.

Luck certainly played a part throughout the game, as Demarcus Lawrence got a hand on a Derek Carr pass, but the ball floated right into the hands of Seth Roberts for a big gain. The same thing resulted in one of Prescott’s picks. That would set up a Raiders touchdown, which knotted things up for the second time at 17 all.

The game was tied at that point because it took a disastrous turn in the third quarter for Dallas, as Prescott would throw his second interception of the game as he was hit, making the ball float out of his hands to be picked off by Sean Smith, who had the earlier pick as well. Dallas was nursing a three point lead, and now Oakland was on the Cowboys’ 22. The defense made a stand and held them to a field goal, but a contest that had been mostly tilted in Dallas favor, at least in key stats, was now tied up. It was a game they really needed to win with their shrinking playoff chances.

And the strength of the Cowboys’ offense was fading. The ground game was strong to start the game, but seemed to drop off, and ESPN’s Todd Archer had an interesting observation.

The Cowboys largely dominated the first half statistically, but only had a 10-0 lead going into the intermission. Their opening possession of the game after they won the toss got off to a good start, but ended on the first Prescott interception. The defense shut the Raiders down and got the ball right back, and Dallas got the ball to the Oakland 24 before stalling, and Bailey got them on the board first with a 45 yard field goal, looking like his old self after his bad performance last week against the New York Giants. The defense stood up again and got a second three and out, and this time the Cowboys went 65 yards for a one yard touchdown run by Rod Smith, set up by a pass interference call drawn by Bryant. That gave them a 10-0 lead with about a minute gone in the second quarter.

The game felt like the Cowboys should have had a bigger lead at the half, given how they dominated the stats and the clock to that point, but they didn’t put drives together consistently. They even got bailed out frequently on penalties, including a touchdown for Oakland that was nullified by an offensive pass interference call with under a minute left to go, and then a failed field goal attempt at time ran out. Prescott was again inconsistent, mixing good throws and bad.

One unit that was strong throughout the first half was the Cowboys’ young secondary. They were making plays all over the field, including one play by Chidobe Awuzie when he met Marshawn Lynch head on. It was a big collision, but Awuzie held his ground to help shut down the drive. And the defense kept Lynch largely bottled up.

But even though they were unable to score before half, the Raiders seemed to be gaining some momentum offensively late as the Cowboys were losing theirs. Oakland received the second half kickoff and it looked like a touchdown return, but a holding call brought it back to their 10. All that did was set them up to get a 90 yard march going, with Derek Carr making a big play with his legs on third down to get the ball to the Cowboys 21. Lynch had his best run of the game to that point on the next play to get to the 2 yard line, and set up a touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree to make it a 10-7 game. The real drama was to follow.

It was a win they badly needed, but now the Cowboys have to find out if Tyron Smith is gong to be lost for an extended period again. Bell managed to fill in, but clearly is a big step down. Hopefully, the win will not be too costly in a season that has seem so many stars go down for extended periods of the season.

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