OAKLAND – The Raiders had a 3rd-and-3 at the Dallas 8-yard line with 39 seconds left Sunday when Michael Crabtree got tapped on the shoulder. An official told him to leave the field and get evaluated for a concussion.
The veteran receiver was flummoxed. He felt fine, and saw no reason to abandon his unit at this crucial juncture. He headed for the sideline and asked head coach Jack Del Rio for help getting back into the play. Crabtree's retort was never heard. You can't argue with the independent concussion experts assigned to look for possible head trauma.
Evaluator concern must've come from a pass interference call two plays earlier, where the back of Crabtree's head hit the turf following a scrap for the ball. Crabtree felt fine. That was confirmed upon evaluation in the medical tent when he was cleared to return.
Problem: There was no reason to return.
The Raiders lost on the play Crabtree missed. Quarterback Derek Carr scrambled free from the pocket and headed for the right pylon. He had the first down secured and a sideline free, but angled for the end zone trying to win the game right there.
Cowboys safety Jeff Heath hit Carr as the signal caller stretched for the goal line. The ball came free before Carr went out of bounds, meaning the ball was technically fumbled through a corner of the end zone. Technically, that's a turnover and a touchback.
Dallas was awarded possession and a 20-17 victory at Oakland Coliseum a short time later.
That final play wasn't supposed to go down like that. Coordinator Todd Downing had something else in mind.
"We actually had a play called, a certain play called on the other side of the field, and then the refs made us take (Crabtree) out," Carr said. "Then we had to change our call."
It was a major change, not only in design. Availability was also an issue. Carr targeted Crabtree 17 times in 38 pass attempts during a game with Amari Cooper sidelined with an ankle sprain.
Crabtree was livid at being pulled for such a crucial play.
"Of course I was pissed off. It is the last play of the game and I am trying to help the team win," he said. "But, it is cool. I can't do anything about it now."
Carr had an opportunity to complete a dramatic comeback. He had four guys in the pattern and Marshawn Lynch in to block on this play. Carr didn't have open options in a collapsing pocket when he broke free. He tried to pump fake Jared Cook open, but his cover man stayed close. Y'all know what happened next.
"I was just trying to beat No. 38 to the corner," Carr said. "I was able to beat him, but as soon as I stuck the ball out and he pushed – it just slipped out of my glove. I tried to hold onto it. It wasn't like I didn't try. Obviously, there's a lot of different things (I could've done) – throw it away, kick the field goal, run out of bounds. In that moment, I was just trying to win for my teammates."
No Raider faulted him for it. Carr had been told to go down swinging these final three games after a disastrous loss at Kansas City the week prior. The quarterback did exactly that during a tough, not-always-pretty affair the Raiders had a chance to win late despite some screwy officiating decisions.
"Yeah, you can go back and say, ‘Hey don't reach that thing across there,'" Del Rio said. "We would've all been really happy if he reached it across there and held onto the thing while he did. He moved with his feet there. Made a great play or potentially a great play, that's just an inch away from a great play and ends up unfortunately going the other way for them."
Carr understands the rule. He knew how the game would end after the ball came free and then through the end zone.
"I left it all out there," Carr said. "I'm just trying to win for my teammates. No excuse. I have to hold onto the ball."