The Oakland Raiders’ likely farewell to the dilapidated and crumbling Oakland Coliseum was a surprisingly joyous occasion. In the midst of a lost season, the Raiders surged in their penultimate weekend of the 2018 season. Oakland's season has been defined by its putrid play, thanks in part to a hollowed-out roster and focus on the future. However, on Monday Night Football, they staged one last performance against a Denver Broncos team that has taken yet another dizzying stumble this season.
Denver’s terrible execution reached a low-point during a play early in the first quarter when they were nearly successful in downing a punt inside the five, only to watch Raiders return man Dwayne Harris gallop toward pay dirt on the opposite end of the field.
Four minutes into the contest, Denver’s Colby Wadman booted a high-arching punt from the 34-yard line. Wadman’s punt bounced perfectly toward the end zone, allowing the coverage team to reach it before it beached the goal line. However, two Broncos failed to secure the ball, which is when Harris took a huge risk and swooped in to scoop the ball up at the one.
Harris ran horizontally along the goal line, staving off tacklers before turning upfield along the sideline. Harris would trot untouched into the end zone. Officials reviewed the play to determine if Denver special teamer Isaac Yiadom had downed the ball either at the one or created a touchback, but the touchdown was upheld. It was arguably the longest touchdown run ever by a player who hadn’t touched the ball first, and it wasn’t just a stroke of luck either.
Harris attempting to touch the ball may have appeared to be an impulsive, high-risk maneuver, but in actuality, Harris was merely there to take advantage of the obscure Rule Nine, Section Two, Article Two of the NFL’s rules handbook which states that:
“First touching” is when a player of the kicking team touches a scrimmage kick that is beyond the line of scrimmage before it has been touched by a player of the receiving team beyond the line. If the ball is first touched by a player of the kicking team, it remains in play. First touching is a violation, and the receivers shall have the option of taking possession of the ball at the spot of first touching, provided no penalty is accepted on the play, or at the spot where the ball is dead. First touching does not offset a foul by the receivers.
With this rule in mind, Harris knew he could be tackled in the end zone and the Raiders offense would have been rewarded possession where the ball was last touched by the kicking team. Harris is a brilliant special teams return man who has a proclivity for identifying rulebook loopholes. Just three weeks ago, he gave Oakland's offense possession at the 40 by touching a kickoff while standing out of bounds.
Three weeks ago, he expressed the intricacies of this loophole:
Harris' touchdown had a debilitating effect on Denver's morale and propelled Oakland to a 27-14 win over Denver. If this is the last game the Raiders play in Oakland, they can depart knowing they closed it out on a high note.