Dallas Cowboys

Paper thin: What Cowboys, Raiders said about Gene Steratore’s controversial call

Oakland Raiders react on 4th-down index card ruling

The Oakland Raiders fell to the Dallas Cowboys 20-17 on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in a game where the referee made a ruling on 4th down by using a folded index card in the fourth quarter.
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The Oakland Raiders fell to the Dallas Cowboys 20-17 on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in a game where the referee made a ruling on 4th down by using a folded index card in the fourth quarter.

A piece paper.

That’s what everyone talked about after the Dallas Cowboys’ pulled out a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night.

With 5:06 left in a tie game, the Cowboys faced a fourth-and-inches from their own 39. Quarterback Dak Prescott kept it and didn’t move the pile much. It appeared the officials marked him just shy of the 40-yard line, but a measurement proved otherwise – by a paper thin margin.

Referee Gene Steratore pulled out a folded piece of paper to make the final determination the ball had crossed the yard stick. It appeared the paper slid between the football and yard stick, which would seem to suggest the ball was short, but Steratore said it reaffirmed his visual determination.

“The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done. My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole,” Steratore told a pool reporter after the game.

“The ball was touching the pole. I put the card in there and as soon as it touched, it was nothing more than a reaffirmation. The decision was made based on my visual from the top looking down and the ball touching the front of the pole.”

That kept the Cowboys’ drive alive and they went on to score what proved to be the game-deciding field goal.

Here’s what everyone had to say about Steratore’s controversial decision.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: “I love any game that will allow you to just stick it in the pile, and then come back and measure it with a piece of cigarette paper. … We’ve always thought a roll of cigarette paper is pretty thin and that was down to cigarette paper thin. That’s amazing when that ball had to be placed in the middle of all that mess and they had to pick a spot and stick it down there on the grass. That was the spot that they had to measure it with the cigarette paper. That’s our game.”

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio: “I don’t want to get fined, OK? I’m not happy with the way things were done. A lot of different situations throughout the night. They did the best they could. I had a different viewpoint. I saw air. It was pretty obvious. But, again, they do the best they can with a tough job.”

Asked if he’s ever seen a referee use a piece of paper, Del Rio said: “Never. Never seen air like that and it somehow turns into a first down. There was air between the ball and the stick. That’s short, OK. Goes the other way. Period.”

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett: “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that one. It seems like that’s the method they used to decide. One of my concerns was it looked like the stick was kind of on an angle and I thought that was working against us, but eventually they straightened it out and they brought the card out and we made it by the thickness of the card.”

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten: “There was a lot of emotion in that moment when you’re kind of watching it, so … they made the right call.

“It’s a game of inches. It’s a game of five-by-seven notecards.”

Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin: “He was definitely short, but I’m not going to get into that. I like my money too much so I don’t want to talk about the refs.”

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant: “The game is a game of inches and it is what it is. We got that first and kept that drive alive.”

Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown: “I’ve never seen that before. That was my first time. That was funny and nerve-wracking.”

Raiders linebacker Navorro Bowman: “For them to pull that paper out, did that solidify the first down? There was space in between the ball and the stick. I don’t know, man. We just have to come to a mutual thing with the officials and get every play right.”

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