ALAMEDA, Calif. — Coach Jack Del Rio still doesn’t understand how Dallas got a first down by the width of an index card in a key play of a game that dealt a crippling blow to the Oakland Raiders’ already slim playoff hopes.
Dak Prescott’s fourth-down sneak gave the Cowboys a first down by the narrowest of margins after a measurement that included props and helped set up the go-ahead score in Dallas’ 20-17 win Sunday night.
“Nothing really surprises you after 32 years, things happen in this league,” Del Rio said Monday. “But, that was unusual.”
The key play came when the Cowboys went for it on fourth-and-1 from their 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott dived into the pile on a sneak, and the officials took some time to untangle the mess and spot the ball.
Referee Gene Steratore called for the chains to come out, but even then it wasn’t clear if the ball had cleared the first-down threshold. He tried to slide an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain before awarding Dallas a first down.
Steratore said after the game he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement, but Del Rio isn’t buying it.
“I thought everything was in place to get an accurate call and I saw space and in my opinion, it should have gone the other way and a turnover on downs. I haven’t had a chance to call and get the explanation. I mean, I’m sure there will be some kind of explanation, but whatever it is, I’m going to disagree with it,” Del Rio said. “I know what I saw, I saw it myself from the sideline. But I also saw plenty examples on Twitter. The guy ran out there with the camera and put the camera right down on it, so the whole world got to see what it was. It’s not like we’re making something up. The guy with the camera was right there. So how you can look at that and then get up with a smirk. I don’t know, that’s hard to take.”
Oakland still had a chance to win after holding Dallas to a field goal on that drive, but Derek Carr fumbled while trying to stretch the ball over the goal line on a scramble and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a touchback that gave the Cowboys the ball.
The Raiders head into the final two games with only the slimmest of postseason chances. They must win at Philadelphia and the Chargers, then hope Buffalo and Tennessee each lose twice, Miami wins twice and Baltimore gets at least one tie or win in the final two games to get in as the sixth seed in the AFC.
Oakland’s playoff odds are estimated at less than 1 percent, according to fivethirtyeight.com. Still, Del Rio doesn’t plan to shift playing time with an eye on evaluating younger players ahead of next season.
“We’re going to play to win,” he said. “We’re just going to play to win. We’re going to do everything we can to get over this ‘close but no cigar’ finish we had.”
One lineup change Oakland has to make this week is at left tackle, where stalwart Donald Penn went down with a right foot injury that will require surgery Wednesday. Penn has appeared in all 174 regular-season games since making his debut as an undrafted free agent with Tampa Bay in 2007. Penn became a starter that season and has started 170 straight games, the longest active streak of any offensive lineman.
Penn did miss Oakland’s playoff game last year against Houston with a knee injury but has otherwise been an ironman at a grueling position.
Del Rio said he hadn’t decided whether to start rookie David Sharpe next Monday at Philadelphia or use the same alignment he did after Penn got hurt in Sunday’s loss to Dallas with Marshall Newhouse moving from right to left tackle and Vadal Alexander coming in to take Newhouse’s spot.
NOTES: Del Rio praised C Rodney Hudson for playing through a kidney stone Sunday. … Del Rio had no update on the status of injured WR Amari Cooper, who missed this week’s game with an ankle injury.
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