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Cowboys @ Raiders: 10 thoughts including Jeff Heath saving the season

It was a crazy game at the Black Hole as the Cowboys survived for another week.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Wow. What a crazy game.

The Dallas Cowboys entered the Oakland Colosseum with their playoff lives at stake and they left the bay area with their hopes still alive. After five-straight games that have ended in a rout, this one would come down to the wire. The Cowboys had control of the first half, but then Oakland would close the gap in a hurry. It was a game of close calls, but in the end - the Cowboys squeaked out with a victory. Here are 10 observations from their 20-17 victory.

1. From the goat to the G.O.A.T

Jeff Heath gets a lot of criticism and it’s fun to refer to him as the “greatest of all-time” because such a thing is laughable. It’s also fun to root for this guy as there is no shortage of hustle with this guy. After a fumble in the first quarter just rolled right by his feet as he watched Michael Crabtree pounce on it, Heath would get a chance to redeem himself and he came through in a big way.

After a pass interference penalty set the Raiders up in great shape deep in Cowboys territory, Heath would make two game-saving plays for the defense in the final minute of the game. First, Heath would knock down a pass in the end zone to Crabtree. Then, he made the play of the game when he chased down Raiders quarterback, Derek Carr, and hit his arm as he lunged for the end zone. The ball would come loose and roll out of the end zone for a touchback. Just like that, the game was over.

It’s nice to see the defense come through and win the game.

2. A let down from Brown

The last few plays should have never happened because Anthony Brown should have made an interception to clinch the game. Brown made the correct read and made a play on the ball, but it just went right through his hands. There is no excuse to not make that catch and it could have very easily have cost the Cowboys their season.

3. Gutsy Garrett

If you polled fans, many would tell you that Jason Garrett is as conservative as they come, but there may be some holes in that narrative. The Cowboys coach has demonstrated many times that he isn’t afraid to make some gutsy calls. He made a courageous call when they ran a fake punt on 4th and 11 back on their own 24-yard line. Chris Jones would take off and scamper 24 yards to give the Cowboys a new set of downs near midfield. The offense was struggling the move the ball so he tried to steal a possession and it worked.

On the very next play, the Cowboys would run a flea-flicker when Dak Prescott would go deep to Terrance Williams. It was a good call and the pass was right on the money, but it went right through Williams hands. Dallas was still able to get points on the drive thanks to a nice reception by Dez Bryant and touchdown run by Prescott.

But no play was bigger than when Garrett decided to go for it on fourth down at their own 40-yard line. It may have seemed like the wrong thing to do to where they should have just punted the ball and trust the defense, but keep in mind - Oakland’s offense had scored on three of their four second half possessions at that point. The Cowboys were trying to win the game and best chances to do that was to go for it.

4. A game of inches millimeters

Any time Gene Steratore referees a Cowboys games, there is always some weird stuff happening. I have never seen an index card whipped out and used to help measure a measurement. By the narrowest of margins, the Cowboys would be awarded a first down after they went for it on that big fourth down play.

Garrett said afterwards that he would have challenged the spot had they ruled them short, but you never know what you can see from those scrums. It did look like the referees didn’t give the Cowboys a good spot there so justice was served. Steratore isn’t a favorite among Cowboys fans after the controversial “no-catch” call in the 2014 Divisional Playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. It looked like he wanted to call that first down real bad.

Notes? What kind of notes?

5. The fight was there

This game was frustrating because once again the defense played a great first half but the offense just couldn’t do much to build a good lead. They would do a good job moving the chains in the first quarter as they held the ball for over 12 minutes. The Cowboys would pick up nine first downs while the Raiders had none and would have 147 total yards versus just seven by the Raiders. It would set up an early second quarter touchdown to give them an early 10-0 lead. But then the offense sputtered and eventually the Raiders started catching up.

Even though this game wasn’t pretty by any means and the Cowboys had some let-downs late, this team kept fighting. You have to hand it to the defense for swarming to the ball on every play. It might have not seemed like it, but the defense forced four fumbles. They were actively striking and the effort was there. Not only that, but they had a lot of close calls, too. DeMarcus Lawrence got his hand in on a Carr pass that the Raiders were fortunate to get a big reception from.

This defense could have easily caved after that pass interference penalty, but the they went out there and kept fighting and ultimately made a play to win the game.

6. Tale of two-halves for the young secondary

The younglings were at it again on Sunday night as they started off with another great showing against the Raiders. Chidobe Awuzie’s name was mentioned a lot and all of them were for good things. He had a forced fumble when he stripped the ball away from Michael Crabtree. He also had a nice close on a route that caused Crabtree to be short of the first down, resulting in a punt. He even got up close and personal with Marshawn Lynch when “Beastmode” lowered his shoulder. The rookie held his own as Lynch was stopped in his tracks.

The Raiders came away with no points before the first half ended and part of that was due to a missed field goal, but credit Jourdan Lewis for putting them against the clock on that drive. He would have two-straight open field tackles that used up time and forced Oakland to burn a timeout. This kid continues to show up as a physical tackler.

This young defense is worth getting excited about.

But the second half wasn’t so kind. Awuzie would give up two touchdown catches to Crabtree and Lewis would have that crucial pass interference penalty.

These young corners are being asked to do a lot and they are going to face some tough challenges.

7. Disappearing receivers

The offense had it’s struggles, but it was baffling to me that the Cowboys receivers weren’t able to make impact plays against the Raiders. Dez had one big catch, if you remove that play, this is what you were left with:

  • Bryant had one other catch for 19 yards.
  • Terrance Williams had three catches for 19 yards.
  • Cole Beasley had one catch for 15 yards.

Williams missed a great opportunity when he dropped that deep pass on the flea-flicker. Cole Beasley’s best play was when he touched a Raiders defender after he came away with an interception, preventing a defensive touchdown. That’s just not enough from this group. Are they not getting separation? Is Dak just missing them? Why can’t the big three get more involved?

8. Stop kicking to Cordarrelle

Dan Bailey looked good in his first field goal attempt after a dreadful week kicking last game against the New York Giants. He would knock down a 45-yard field goal on the second drive of the game. He’s also started out smart on his kickoffs by booming the ball out of the end zone to avoid the dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson. But then for some reason that stopped as as his kicks went short and allowed Patterson to return them. The Raiders returner would make Dallas pay with some nice runs, including a 44-yarder. He would also get loose and take one back for a touchdown, but fortunately Damien Wilson was tackled on the play and it came back.

9. The touchdown that wasn’t

When Prescott hit Bryant for that 40-yard pass play that set up 1st-and-goal at the five-yard line, we could all breathe a little easier. Alfred Morris would run the ball to the one-yard line on the next play and it was looking like the Cowboys were going to go up by seven points. But after two failed attempts from the one-yard line, the Cowboys had to settle for a field goal. What a let down.

The Raiders still had 1:44 left which was plenty of time to move the ball and they almost made the Cowboys pay for not getting in the end zone there. This is one of those times where it would have been nice to have Ezekiel Elliott powering through the goal line.

Speaking of...

10. Zeke physique

The six-game suspension is now over. Ezekiel Elliott has been off in Mexico putting in some training to keep himself ready for action. From the looks of it, he’s dropped a little weight.

He’s coming back a lean, mean, running machine. Next Sunday, the Cowboys will face the Seattle Seahawks in another crucial game on Christmas eve. Fans will get a nice present when their All Pro running back takes the field.

Those are my quick thoughts on the game. How about you?

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