Sometimes, football is a game of inches. The Oakland Raiders found out the hard way Sunday night, as a referee used a folded-up index card to verify a key first down for the Dallas Cowboys.
With the game tied and five minutes remaining in regulation, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott ran a keeper up the middle on fourth-and-1 from the Cowboys’ 39-yard line, ESPN reported.
The ball was spotted just short of the 40-yard line and the referees called for a measurement. Referee Gene Steratore folded up an index card to see if there was space between the nose of the football and the pole. There appeared to be space, but Steratore signaled a first down for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys took advantage and kicked what proved to be the game-winning field goal with 1;47 to play.
Oakland coach Jack Del Rio was upset with the controversial call, ESPN reported.
“I don't want to get fined, OK?” Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. “I'm not happy with the way things were done in a lot of different situations throughout the night. They did the best that they could. I had a different viewpoint. I saw air. It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job.”
“Yeah, I don't know that I've ever seen that one,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “It seems like that's the method they use to decide. One of my concerns was that it looked like the stick was kind of on an angle. We thought that was working against us but eventually they straightened it out, brought the card out and we made it by the thickness of the card. And it was certainly a big play.”
In a conversation with a pool reporter, Steratore said did not use the index card to make the final decision.
“The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done.” he said. “My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole."
How did it reaffirm?
"That was already finished," Steratore said. "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."
The Raiders still had a chance to win in the final minute with the ball at the Cowboys' 8-yard line. But Oakland quarterback Derek Carr, diving for a game-winning touchdown at the right pylon, lost the ball and it rolled out of the end zone for a touchback, giving Dallas possession with 31 seconds to play.