NFL

Cowboys edge Raiders, keep NFC playoff hopes alive

The (8-6) kept their paper-thin playoff hopes alive on Sunday night, riding a controversial MacGyverish first-down decision to a 20-17 victory over the (6-8) on Sunday Night Football in Week 15. Here’s what we learned:

Life’s this game of inches, so is football, Al Pacino once said in a fictionalized halftime speech. Try millimeters, Tony D’Amato. Two crazy close calls turned the tide of this wholesale NFL jerseys wild prime-time thriller and effectively ended the Oakland Raiders‘ season.

First, the notecard. Tied at 17 with five minutes left, Dallas went for it on fourth-and-one from its own 39, only for Dak Prescott to apparently be stopped short of the line to gain. Upon further review, the ball was re-measured, but it was still to close to call by the naked eye. Referee Gene Steratore proceeded to break the tie by unleashing a folded index card to “reaffirm” that the ball reached the first-down marker. It did. Apparently. Three plays later, Dallas was in Oakland’s red zone, and the Cowboys took the lead with a 19-yard Dan Bailey field goal.

On Oakland’s ensuing drive, the Raiders found themselves inside Dallas’ 10 with just 30 seconds to go. Gunning for six, on third down, Derek Carr rolled out to his right and dove for the pylon. Still in bounds, Carr was forced by Jeff Heath toward the sideline as he stretched out, but the ball dislodged, sailing inside the pylon and through the end zone. The ruling was the dreaded fumble-through-the-end-zone touchback. Ball and game, Cowboys.

The ending to Sunday Night Football called into question the arbitrary and illogical nature of parts of the NFL rule book. On a day when the inconsistent Catch Rule reared its ugly head once again, Sunday’s finale proved that, along with questionable calls, the rule book should go under review this offseason.

With the close win, Dallas remains very much alive in the NFC wild-card race. At 8-6, the Cowboys are one of four teams in the conference with eight wins. If the Atlanta Falcons (8-5) somehow lose Monday night to Tampa Bay, there will be a four-way tie at 8-6 for the sixth seed between Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit and Seattle. Of those four clubs, the Cowboys and Seahawks are the only two to play each other in a Week 16 do-or-die game at AT&T Stadium.

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Adding to the intrigue of next week’s bout will be the return of NFL jerseys China wholesale from his six-game suspension/vacation to a Cowboys offense that has kept things afloat in Big D. Alfred Morris (61 yards) and Rod Smith (34 total yards) looked to have tired out Sunday after shouldering the load in Zeke’s stead for a third of the season, so Elliott’s return will be a welcome one. Whether his essential left tackle Tyron Smith will be available, after exiting the win with an ankle injury, will be something to monitor this week.

Bryant caught 69 passes for 838 yards and six touchdowns in 2017 . Those are decent numbers for your average receiver, but an offense that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six weeks and never quite got the ground game going had an added reliance on Bryant. He didn’t deliver, catching just 69 of his 132 targets for a 52.3 catch percentage. His 838 yards receiving also finished outside of the league’s top 25 for the third straight year, but for the first time in 15 or more games played in a season since 2011.

The aspect of Bryant’s underwhelming 2017 that has received the most scrutiny is his number of drops (6), which tied for fifth-most in the league and drew the ire of Cowboys fans on multiple occasions. None was bigger than the short pass that glanced off Bryant’s hands — a fastball lacking the necessary touch from Prescott — and was intercepted by a Seattle defender in a game that ruined Dallas’ postseason chances.

The biggest factor in all of this is Bryant’s contract. It’s a five-year, $70 million deal signed in 2015, fresh off a season that saw Bryant catch 88 passes for 1,320 yards and a career-high 16 touchdowns. It’s since taken him three seasons to match that scoring output, all while his salary-cap number has risen steadily with each year.

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That number drops in 2018, from $17 million to $16.5 million, but his dead cap number — a salary-cap penalty incurred by releasing Bryant before the expiration of his contract — remains an exorbitant $8 million before June 1, according to cheap Dallas Cowboys jerseys. After that date, it drops to $4 million, creating a cap savings of $12.5 million.

“I texted Zeke last week to talk to him, he’s in great spirits,” receiver Dez Bryant said, via the Dallas Morning News. “The passion he brings each and every day is crazy. He gets us juiced. And to have him back, I know he’s licking his chops right now. I’ve seen a couple [pictures]. He ready for wholesale jerseys.”

Before his suspension, Elliott was rounding into form after a slow start to the season, earning 126.5 yards per game in his last four contests. Remaining in shape while away was key for a running back who infamously entered the past two training camps slightly behind the curve.

NFL Network’s Jane Slater reported Monday that Elliott spent his suspension working out in isolation in Cabo to stay out of the spotlight.

Now that the suspension is over, Zeke will be back smack dab in the middle of that spotlight.

The Cowboys went 3-3 sans Elliott to keep their dimming playoff dreams alive. Zeke’s first game back comes in a loser-goes-home match with the Seahawks. The loser’s playoff hopes are dead. The winner’s will remain on life support.