Post-game recap of the Week 15 matchup between the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.
Before the 2017 season began, the Week 15 matchup between the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys was circled as one of the must-watch games of the year, not just for either team but for the NFL in general. This game was viewed as a battle between two of the up-and-coming teams in the league and a potential Super Bowl matchup.
Fast forward to the present and that narrative has come completely crashing down. Both Oakland and Dallas were limping into Week 15, fighting for their playoff lives. Both teams were looking at situations where they had to win out their remaining schedule and also needed several other things to happen in order to get into the playoffs.
The struggles of the Raiders in 2017 were well-documented to this point, especially in primetime. With the playoffs looking like a long shot, it would be interesting to see how the team would respond on Sunday Night Football.
Losing the coin toss, Dallas opted to start with the ball. The offense used 7 plays to get 40 yards, including picking up three 1st downs along the way. But on play no. 8, an errant throw combined with a bad route by Dez Bryant led to an interception for Sean Smith. At Week 15, this was the first interception by a Raiders cornerback on the year.
Unfortunately, the offense failed to capitalize on the rare forced turnover. Marshawn Lynch started the drive off with an 8-yard gain but followed it up with a 3-yard loss. An incomplete pass on 3rd down forced Marquette King to punt on Oakland’s first drive of the game.
The Cowboys offense wouldn’t come up empty the second time around. The Raiders had no answer for Alfred Morris to this point, as he picked up an easy 51 yards on his first 7 carries. Dallas marched into field goal position with ease and took a 3-0 lead.
Undrafted rookie linebacker Nicholas Morrow was the defensive star of the first two defensive drives. He was all over the field, including picking up a tackle for loss on Rod Smith, playing perfect coverage on Jason Witten to knock down a pass, and pressuring Dak Prescott into an incompletion on 3rd down.
Oakland’s offense laid another dud on their second drive, going three and out once again. Derek Carr had Michael Crabtree open for a 3rd down conversion but was forced to throw the ball earlier than expected due to pressure, and the ball hit off of his hands for an incompletion.
On their third drive of the game, the Dallas offense once again had a drive that lasted at least 8 plays. A 31-yard completion mixed with a healthy ground game and a pass interference call on Sean Smith in the end zone put the Cowboys on the 1-yard line, where Rod Smith punched it in for a 10-0 lead.
The Raiders, who had totaled 7 yards of offense on six plays in their first two drives, finally showed some signs of life on drive number three. Penalties backed them to their own 3-yard line, but a 7-yard scramble by Carr on 3rd & 7 gave the offense a fresh set of downs and some space to breathe. But the drive would end right before midfield, as a 7-yard completion to Crabtree on 3rd & 8 ended the drive.
The scramble by Carr was particularly notable, as that is something he has been reluctant to do all season. With two severe injuries in under a calendar year, taking off running up the middle should help his confidence a bit. Carr is quite athletic for the position, and being used as an occasional run threat will make his life easier in the passing game.
That was about as eventful as the first half would be, as Dallas led 10-0 at the break. Giorgio Tavecchio missed a field goal as time expired to add insult to injury.
To start the second half, the always dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson returned the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. But a holding penalty on Xavier Woodson-Luster called it back. So the Raiders would have to put points on the board the old fashioned way.
Starting from their own 10-yard line, a completion to Jalen Richard and a run by Marshawn Lynch picked up 1st downs on back-to-back plays to begin the drive. A few plays later, Carr took off scrambling once again, picking up 32 yards this time. Following a 19-yard gain by Marshawn, Carr hit Crabtree in the end zone for a 2-yard score. And with that, the Raiders were on the board, trailing 10-7.
On the ensuing drive, Sean Smith would pickup his second interception of the game. Bruce Irvin got around the edge and got his hands on Dak Prescott’s arm as the ball was being throw. The throw went errant and high into the air, and Sean made an impressive diving interception. He got up and eventually high-stepped into the end zone, but he was ruled down just after the pick upon review.
An ugly offensive series went nowhere, and the offense was forced to settle for another field goal attempt. This one went through the uprights, though, and the Raiders tied the game up at 10. The tie wouldn’t last long, as Dallas scored on their next drive. The defense didn’t have any answers, with the Cowboys marching 75 yards on 11 plays. A Dak scramble put them back in front, 17-10. The most notable play on the drive was a fake punt by the Cowboys that went for 24 yards.
The fun continued on the next drive, with the fourth scoring drive in the last five counting both teams. 4 or 5 yards at a time, the Raiders chipped their way downfield. Until somehow, Carr stepped his way into the pocket to avoid DeMarcus Lawrence, threw the ball that was partially deflected that fells into the hands of Seth Roberts 28 yards downfield. A few plays later, Carr found Crabtree for his second touchdown of the game to tie the game back up at 17.
Fast forwarding to the final minutes of the game, chaos ensued. On 4th & 1, Dak Prescott ran a QB sneak. The chain-gang came out to measure, and it was so close that the referees couldn’t even decide if it was a 1st down or not. So the lead referee took a folded up piece of paper and stuck it in between the ball and the marker, and then signaled a 1st down.
That’s it. I’m done with the NFL. pic.twitter.com/nJTWt3xP5Z
— Eric Drobny (@ericdrobny) December 18, 2017
There are many problems with what happened, but let’s focus on the paper. If there was enough space between the ball and the marker to fit the paper, that means the Cowboys did not gain the necessary yardage for the 1st down. Also, this is 2017. How barbaric is it that for close calls, the NFL has to rely on two chain guys on the sideline running perfectly horizontally downfield to measure?
Anyway, the Cowboys were able to continue their drive and ended up taking the lead back with a field goal. 20-17, and the Raiders would have under two minutes to tie or win the game.
In just over a minute, Carr marched the Raiders over 80 yards into scoring position. On 3rd & 3, pressure forced him out of the pocket, and he took off running. Derek had enough for the first down, but before he went out of bounds, he dove and reached out for the pylon. A push in the back while he was in air was enough to knock the ball loose, into the end zone and out of bounds. Touchback, confirmed upon review.
This is surely going to be a talking point in the days to come. Carr had enough for the first down and many will be upset he didn’t just settle for that. The Raiders would have had a fresh set of downs, one timeout left, and about 30 seconds to go 2 or 3 yards for a touchdown or settle for a field goal to tie the game.
This is a perfect example of a result-based reaction. If Carr had scored, he would have been hailed for having enough guts to reach out and score, It would have been the play of the game and on Sportscenter’s Top 10.
With that play, the game was over. And although the Raiders weren’t officially eliminated from playoff contention, oddsmakers will surely have them as a one percent chance to get in — some outlets had them at three or four percent prior to this game.
The offense totaled 293 yards — 171 passing and 122 rushing. Carr was 21 of 38 passing with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Crabtree caught 7 passes for only 39 yards, but he caught both of the touchdowns.
Marshawn looked good, picking up 76 yards on 16 carries. Carr had 47 yards on 4 carries, and looked confident running for the first time in a long time.
NaVorro Bowman, per usual, led the team in tackles with 9. Khalil Mack dominated, picking up 2 sacks and 2 tackles for loss. Sean Smith had 2 interceptions, with one of them coming thanks to a Bruce Irvin deflected pass.
Mack gets there again. pic.twitter.com/DrYVSnZZxL
— Chris Reed (@LVRaidersreview) December 18, 2017
Cordarrelle Patterson had 4 kick returns for 103 yards, which doesn’t include the 100-yard touchdown that was called back. He fumbled twice, though, but the Raiders were able to recover both.
In 2016, this is a game the Raiders win with ease. The Cowboys defense isn’t anything to write home about, and this offense should have been able to score 30 if they were functioning anywhere close to the level they are capable of.
The defense wasn’t great in this one, especially early, but they held it together down the stretch. John Pagano has done wonders with the pass rush, but the simple fact of the matter is that the offense is not giving the defense any chance to stay competitive. Too many three and outs and failed drives are leading to the defense getting gassed and getting beat.
Oakland has upcoming games on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers — although that last one is unofficially a home game. A top ten pick is more likely than the playoffs at this point, but we’ll see what happens in the final two weeks.