Chris Jones needs to carry the ball more.
The Cowboys punter made the play of the night in his team’s 20-17 win against the Raiders in Oakland to ensure their season will still matter when running back Ezekiel Elliott returns on Christmas Eve.
Facing a fourth-and-11 from at their own 24-yard line in the third quarter, and his team having lost all momentum in a tie game they had been dominating, Jones ripped off a fake punt and ran the ball 24 yards for a first down.
The play swung the game back towards the Cowboys, and led to a touchdown run by Dak Prescott that broke a 10-all game. Jones should have been able to spike the ball in Oakland’s famed Blake Hole.
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Then the Cowboys caught only a few more breaks, including Raiders quarterback Derek Carr fumbling into and out of the end zone for a touchback with 31 seconds remaining in the game to secure the final score.
The Cowboys are now 8-6, and pop the champagne: Now they get their Pro Bowl running back after his six-game suspension. They dropped the first three sans Zeke Elliott, and won the past three without him. The Cowboys still need considerable help from other NFC teams to return to the playoffs, but they have a shot.
They have a shot because the Cowboys’ biggest run of the year came from the punter, and a bunch of other junk broke their way.
This and three other random observations from the Cowboys latest win:
0.5 Credit Jason Garrett for going for it on 4th-and-1 play. The game was tied at 17 with 4:31 remaining in the game, and the head coach went for it from their own 29 yard line. Quarterback Dak Prescott’s fourth-down run was so close that the officials had to use a piece of paper, between the ball and the yard marker, to prove he made the line to gain.
The Cowboys scored a field goal on the drive to go up 20-17.
1. DeMarcus Lawrence dared the NFL to fine him for blasting the refs, and not only did the league not ask him for his money but the officials helped him out, too.
After the Cowboys’ win against the New York Giants last week, Tank blasted the refs and knew he was going to be fined. He wanted a holding call.
He finally did get that call in Oakland, and a lot more help, too. This was with referee Gene Sterratore working his first Cowboys game since the infamous Dez Bryant “catch” game in the NFC playoffs in the 2014 season.
The refs called back three Oakland Raiders touchdowns, but only one call was questionable.
TD 1: Late in the first half, Raiders tight end Jared Cook caught a touchdown pass. The refs’ erased that TD because of an offensive pass interference by Cook on Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee. Borderline call. Not only did the Raiders not score a touchdown, but they missed a short field goal, too.
TD 2: On the first play of the second half, Raiders kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. His score was called back because of holding. Legit call. The Raiders scored a touchdown on the drive.
TD 3: With 7:19 remaining in the third quarter, Raiders defensive back Sean Smith intercepted his second pass of the game at the Cowboys’ 22 yard line and returned it for a touchdown. Replays showed that Cowboys receiver Cole Beasley barely touched Smith while he was down to take the touchdown away.
The Raiders settled for a field goal. So what could have been 21 points for the Raiders turned out to be 10.
2. The state of the Oakland Raiders is pathetic, and almost as bad as the venue they play in. The Oakland Coliseum is the reason the Raiders are re-locating to Las Vegas, and if you can get out here for a game before they move you should. Not many places in the NFL are a dump, and because of that this place can be charming.
Raider Nation makes The Black Hole the last rough-house locale in all of pro sports.
2.5 Tyron Smith is not the same. The Cowboys Pro Bowl left tackle had to leave the game in the second half with a knee injury, as he continues to be bothered by injury. At least this time it was not his back. His replacement, Byron Bell, is not Tyron Smith.
3. Dez Bryant is a football player who made a business decision in a football game, and later made two sensational plays. On the Cowboys’ first drive, quarterback Dak Prescott threw consecutive bad passes, and the last one burned him.
Prescott’s throw on a third-and-10 play from the Raiders’ 35 was intended for Dez, but the ball was high and the receiver hit the brakes and made no attempt for the catch. Dez had a linebacker lined up for a big hit.
Raiders defensive back Sean Smith made the easy interception. Did Dez pull up on the pass for fear of losing his head? Yes. Yes. And yes.
In the third quarter, with the Cowboys facing a first and 20 play, Dez caught his first pass in traffic for 19 yards. The catch was a special play by a good player.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 17, Dak completed a deep ball for 40 yards to Dez down to the 5-yard line to set up the game-winning field goal.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof