OAKLAND –To Jason Garrett, the final deciding play Sunday night at the Oakland Coliseum defined the Cowboys' approach to this gritty December playoff push:
"Continue to scratch, continue to claw," he said.
Garrett was referring to safety Jeff Heath racing across the field and forcing quarterback Derek Carr's fumble into the end zone for a touchback, sealing the Cowboys' 20-17 victory over the Raiders.
Carr, trying to give Oakland the lead with about 30 seconds left, scrambled right and outstretched his arm to cross the pylon, but the ball fell from his grasp and rolled into the end zone and out of bounds.
"I hit him and I fell and I rolled over and I just saw the ball rolling out of the side of the end zone," Heath said. "Right at the moment I knew it was a fumble. I just didn't know if he had his knee down."
Replay showed the ball left Carr's hand before his right knee touched the ground. Heath's takeaway prevented a potentially disastrous ending for Dallas.
Three plays earlier, rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis was flagged for pass interference on Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree, a 55-yard penalty that set up Oakland at the Cowboys' 15-yard line.
After Carr threw a 7-yard completion to the 8, Heath knocked down a would-be touchdown pass to Crabtree.
Then Carr made his move to the end zone.
"I was just trying to beat (No.) 38 to the corner," he said, referring to Heath. "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 – throw it away, kick the field goal, run out of bounds. In that moment, I was just trying to win for my teammates."
Heath's heroics pushed the Cowboys' win streak to three – and now keeps them in the hunt for a wild-card spot with two games to play.
"To have a walk-off touchback to end the ballgame, that hasn't happened before," Garrett said. "Real credit to Jeff Heath. He makes a hell of a play on that. It wasn't our most perfect performance in any phase of our football team, but the fight was there and I thought that play typified what we're trying to instill in our football team.
"Him laying out, somehow, some way, not letting that guy get to the pylon and ultimately knocking the ball out. It was a hell of a play. It was an unbelievable game."