What a crazy game. After five-straight contests that have ended in 20+ blowouts, this one came down to the wire. The Cowboys started off with a 10-0 halftime lead, but the Raiders would fight back in the second half to tie it up. There were some wacky things that happened in the game and fortunately the Cowboys came out on the winning side. Here are this week’s winners and losers:
Most Cowboys fans agree that out of all the defensive backs they let walk in free agency, Barry Church is the one they miss the most. After his departure, the starting safety gig went to special team’s ace, Jeff Heath. While the veteran has struggled over the course of the season in his new role, he has a knack for making big plays. Despite a limited role in past seasons, he’s still led the Cowboys in interceptions over the last two years. And with three picks already in 2017, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.
Heath would come up big late in the game when he made two huge plays. First, he was able to jump in front of a pass to Michael Crabtree and knock it down at the last second. Then, in the signature play of the game, he chased down Raiders quarterback, Derek Carr and hit him as he lunged for the pylon. The ball came loose and rolled out of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. In a blink of the eye, the Cowboys pulled out the victory thanks to an unlikely hero.
There is not much Cowboys punter, Chris Jones cannot do. If you want him to boom a long kick, he can do it. If you want a punt downed inside the 10-yard line, he can do that too. But not only does he have a precise and powerful left foot, Jones is also a great athlete. He has already displayed that on a number of occasions. He pulled off a great fake punt last year against the Philadelphia Eagles where he scampered down the side-line for a huge gain. And earlier this year, he completed a pass to Brice Butler that would have been another successful fake had Butler not been called for a push off.
Jones would be called upon to come through again for the Cowboys on Sunday night. On a 4th-and-11 at their own 24-yard line, Jones saw a look he liked and took off running. The Cowboys would steal a possession from the Raiders and turn it into a touchdown.
The Cowboys head coach is often criticized for being too conservative, but fans should start to realize that’s just not the case. Jason Garrett has shown plenty of assertiveness in his decision making throughout the years and he was in true form against the Raiders. Besides having trust in his punter and specials teams coach Rich Bisaccia to pull off the fake punt, Garrett would take a huge risk when he chose to go for it on fourth down in their own territory with only five minutes left in the game.
Garrett had faith in his squad to get the chains moved to where they still could come away with points. It was a close-call for sure, but credit the Cowboys coach for doing everything in his power to give his team the best chance to win the game.
Would you believe the Cowboys had three chances to pick off Carr where the ball went right through their hands? And would you believe the defense would force four fumbles, but wouldn’t fall on any of them? In fact, the only takeaway the Cowboys would be credited with is the big play at the end of the game from Heath, where the ball rolled out of the end zone.
Twice, the special teams would strip the ball away from Raiders returner, Cordarrelle Patterson, only to have it roll out of bounds. Many fans will remember when Anthony Brown had the ball go right through his hands, but the same thing happened to both Jourdan Lewis and Damien Wilson earlier in the game. And while Jeff Heath was the hero, he didn’t look so graceful when he stumbled around while the ball was right at his feet for the taking following a nice strip from Chidobe Awuzie.
You have to credit the Cowboys defense for creating a lot of these opportunities. They were slapping, stripping, and hitting to jar the ball loose at every opportunity they could. Unfortunately, they just could come away with the ball.
Goal line offense
The Cowboys had a great opportunity to go up by seven late in the game when Dez Bryant caught that 40-yard pass to set up 1st-and-goal at the five-yard line. Alfred Morris would run to the one-yard line on the very next play. The Cowboys offense had two chances to get one yard, but couldn’t break the goal line. Dallas had to settle for a field goal, which almost turned out to be costly.
No help around the league
The Cowboys are doing their part, but they still need some help if they are to get into the postseason. They could have used losses by Atlanta, Carolina, or Detroit, but every one of those teams won. Green Bay lost and are no longer a threat to the Cowboys, but now the team really needs some things to happen in these final two weeks of the regular season if they are to have a shot.
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Alright, so here’s the situation for the Cowboys.— David Helman (@HelmanDC) December 19, 2017
1. Obviously, they must go 2-0.
2. Detroit must lose a game, against either Cincinnati or Green Bay.
3. An NFC South team — be it Atlanta, Carolina or New Orleans — must go 0-2.
With a three-game winning streak, the Cowboys are still in the playoff hunt. With Ezekiel Elliott set to return, can they still make a run and get into the playoffs? Share your answer with Dan on Twitter @DannyPhantom24.