Late in Sunday's Raiders-Cowboys game, Dallas converted a fourth down. The call was confirmed by sticking an index card between the ball and the stick.
Referee Gene Steratore's decision to use an index card to determine a first down in Sunday's game between the Cowboys and Raiders was called "very unusual" by an NFL spokesman, but not a violation of any rules, according to Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com.
Late in Sundays game while the score was tied at 17, Dallas faced a fourth and one in its own half of the field, and the team decided to go for it. Quarterback Dak Prescott ran a sneak that caused officials to bring out the chains to measure the spot of the ball. With the ball close to the first down stick, Steratore decided to take an index card, and used that to decide if it was a first down or not. The ball and the stick both touched the paper, and Steratore ruled it a first down. The Cowboys would make the game-deciding field goal on that drive and pick up a 20-17 win.
After the game, Steratore, who has been an official since 2006, defended his decision when speaking with a pool reporter.
"The ball was touching the pole," Steratore said according to ESPN. "I put the card in there and as soon as it touched, it was nothing more than reaffirmation. The decision was made based on my visual from the top looking down and the ball touching the front of the pole."
Raiders coach Jack Del Rio told reporters after the game he could see "air" between the ball and the pole, even when the index card was in place, according to ESPN.
In a 2013 game between the Ravens and Browns referee Bill Vinovich made the same decision, and the league had a similar response and called it "very unusual" according to ESPN.