The first half was nothing but turkey and gravy for the Oakland Raiders. The second half, however, saw the Dallas Cowboys pick the carcass clean, scoring 24 unanswered points after the Raiders took a 21-7 second-quarter lead en route to a 31-24 victory.
The loss ensures the Raiders, at 4-8, will post their 11th straight non-winning record. The last time Oakland finished above .500 was during their Super Bowl season of 2002. Dallas improved to 7-5 and, at least temporarily, took over sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The Raiders got the day off to a flying start, with Greg Jenkins scooping up a fumble by Terrance Williams on the opening kickoff and scoring on a 23-yard return to put Oakland up 7-0 just 12 seconds into the contest.
It seemed the curse of the blue jerseys was something real, after all.
Dallas bounced back to tie the game with 43 seconds left in the quarter on a 2-yard run by DeMarco Murray—the first of his three touchdown runs on the day—on a drive set up by a Raider turnover.
Quarterback Matt McGloin mishandled the snap from Stefan Wisniewski with Oakland facing a first-and-10 at its own 6-yard line. Kyle Wilber recovered the loose ball at the Raiders 2 and Murray scored on Dallas’ next play.
The Raiders recovered nicely, however, with McGloin directing a 12-play, 80-yard march capped by Rashad Jennings’ one-yard run one play after an apparent touchdown pass to Andre Holmes was overruled by replay.
Oakland went up 21-7 on its next possession, again putting together a clock-grinding, 12-play drive that covered 50 yards in 7:46. Jennings scored his second touchdown of the day, plunging up the middle, and with 1:56 remaining, the Raiders had a two-touchdown lead.
It’s been said that the only thing a prevent defense does is prevent a team from winning. While this wasn’t the case for the Raiders at the end of the first half, the prevent might have kept Oakland from taking a two-touchdown lead into the locker room at the half.
Tony Romo needed just 1:46 to take the Cowboys 73 yards, helped in large part by the soft coverage that allowed him to connect with Jason Witten for a 22-yard gain and a 25-yard catch and run to Dez Bryant. Murray’s second touchdown run from four yards out with 10 seconds left made it 21-14 at the half.
And that was pretty much all the good news for the Raiders on the day.
The Cowboys held the Raiders near midfield on their first possession of the second half, then marched 88 yards on 10 plays, capped by a four-yard pass from Romo to Bryant, to tie the game with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.
Murray’s third TD scamper was a seven-yard burst off right tackle early in the fourth quarter that gave Dallas its first lead, 28-21.
Oakland went three-and-out on its next possession, held the Cowboys to a three-and-out, and got the ball back at its own 44 with 10:21 to go.
McGloin hit Holmes for a 35-yard gain on a post pattern, but on third-and-9 from the Dallas 20, McGloin looked for the big play. His pass to Jacoby Ford was intercepted by Brandon Carr in the end zone, squandering a big chance for the Raiders.
Dallas made them pay.
The Cowboys went on what must have resembled the Bataan death march for the Raiders’ beleaguered defense, a 14-play, 78-yard marathon that burned 6:43 off the clock and ended with Dan Bailey’s 19-yard field goal and a two-possession lead for Dallas at 31-21.
McGloin moved the Raiders to the Dallas 27, but couldn’t connect with Holmes on a corner route to the end zone and with 35 second remaining, Raiders coach Dennis Allen made an odd decision. He sent out the field goal team on second down and Sebastian Janikowski hit the 45-yard field goal to get Oakland back to within a score at 31-24.
But the Raiders couldn’t recover the onside kick and all that was left was for Romo to kneel down once and drain the clock.
Yes, Oakland needed two scores, but the onside kick—when it’s not something unexpected—has about a 1-in-10 chance of succeeding. With the ball deep in Dallas territory and two more downs to work with, why not throw the ball to the end zone twice more before settling for the field goal?
There will be a lot of second-guessing of Allen for that decision to be sure.
McGloin was solid, particularly in the first half, and finished the day 18-for-30 for 255 yards, but did have the one pick. But Oakland could never get the running game going. The Raiders finished with just 50 yards on 25 carries, with Jennings held to 35 on 17 attempts (though he did have the two short TDs) and Darren McFadden was a non-factor in his return with 13 yards on five carries.
Holmes—starting in place of Denarius Moore—had a career day, literally, with seven catches for 136 yards against his former team. Holmes came into the game with five career receptions for 76 yards.
The running game propelled Dallas’ offense. Lance Dunbar wound up with 82 yards on 12 carries and Murray had 63 more on 17 attempts, plus the three scores, while Romo was a workmanlike 23-for-32 for 225 yards and a touchdown.
The Raiders will now have 10 days to ruminate in the disappointment of this loss. They make their second trip to the Jersey swamps in less than a month, visiting the New York Jets (5-6) on Dec. 8 for one of those wonderful 10 a.m. Pacific kickoffs.