OAKLAND, Calif. -- Derek Carr surveyed the field.
It was third-and-3 at the Dallas 8-yard line and muscle memory kicked in. The Oakland Raiders quarterback, under duress, rolled to his right and sprinted to the right pylon.
He picked up the first down, but in stretching for the pylon and in getting hit by Cowboys safety Jeff Heath, he fumbled the ball. And because it went through the end zone, it was a touchback; the Cowboys got possession with 31 seconds on the clock.
Even with a partial return of that vaunted Carr magic from 2016, when he engineered seven comeback wins in the fourth quarter or overtime, it wasn't enough on Sunday night.
"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.
"I'm supercompetitive ... I try not to lose at anything. I had an opportunity to try and win the football game. When I was pumping, I was just trying to get to the corner by Jared [Cook]. I was just trying to beat [Heath] to the corner. 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."
Alas, after having picked up just 52 yards of offense with two minutes to go in the first half, it was too little, too late.
Indeed, it was a card trick -- a piece of paper, really -- that helped decide the Cowboys' victory in the Raiders' regular-season home finale. Referee Gene Steratore pulled out a folded piece of paper to measure to see if the nose of the football had reached the first-down chain marker after a Cowboys fourth-and-1 play at the Dallas 39-yard line with about five minutes to play.
Dallas was awarded the first down and continued its drive for an eventual game-winning field goal.
And it was inches that decided Carr's game-sealing fumble that dropped the Raiders' record to 6-8. Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missing a 39-yard field goal as time expired in the first half did not help, either.
"It's tough, man," Raiders linebacker Bruce Irvin said. "Derek was trying to make a play as a competitor. Kind of a bang-bang call. You can't really be mad at him for trying to compete and get a touchdown. It's just an unfortunate situation."
Oakland linebacker NaVorro Bowman offered his perspective.
"In a player's mind, I know [Derek] wanted to have that play back," Bowman said, "but if he would have scored that touchdown, everyone would have been screaming and happy. It was just one of those plays where I'm sure he'll learn from it. He'll probably make the better play, run out of bounds. We love him. We know that he's given everything he has. We just need to move forward and stick together as a team."
Earlier in the game, Carr began using his legs like he had not done since suffering a soul- and season-crushing broken right ankle in Week 16 last season.
He lowered his head and ran upfield, and then, downfield.
Thirty-two yards later, Carr had his longest run since his rookie season of 2014 and then finally, mercifully, exhaled as he took a knee and signaled a first down.
This was the Carr the Raiders had invested that gargantuan five-year, $125 million contract extension in this past offseason: a fearless field general who inspired not only his teammates, but the fans. Not a skittish pocket passer who was content to throw a 3-yard pass on third-and-5.
"It reminded me of what we saw a lot of last year," Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said. "Derek played with a lot of zest. Just took off and made some plays with his feet. Played courageous. I thought he played well. It's a shame. It's a shame that play goes an inch or two the other way and it's a different feel right now. But I'm proud that group of men, including Derek. I'm proud of those guys."
Carr finished with 171 yards passing in completing 21 of 38 attempts.
Some of that old Carr magic? He had two touchdown passes against the blitz on Sunday after having had one against the blitz in his previous six games combined.
He also became just the ninth quarterback in NFL history to throw at least 100 TDs in 60 games, joining Dan Marino (145), Johnny Unitas (111), Andrew Luck (111), Matthew Stafford (108), Kurt Warner (106), Peyton Manning (105), Aaron Rodgers (104) and Carson Palmer (101).
Plus, Carr joined Ken Stabler (150), Daryle Lamonica (148) and Rich Gannon (114) as the fourth Raiders QB to throw at least 100 TD passes.