Cowboys Come Up Short Against 49ers Long Before Clunky Finish

An unpredictable final drive cost the third-seeded Cowboys their playoff hopes, as the No. 6-seeded 49ers defeated them.

Prescott was attempting to set up a game-winning touchdown run against the 49ers with his scramble on Sunday. Instead, he was unable to complete a play again.

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Many people have high hopes when it comes to their local professional football team, and when those hopes aren’t realized — as they have been for the past three decades and counting — another disappointing Dallas Cowboys season leads to an interesting offseason.

When the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the thousands of fans who walked out of AT&T Stadium on Sunday night will again lament how one of the NFL’s supposed injustices will go unpunished.

Jones couldn’t recall a time when he was so downhearted following a defeat.

Despite the Cowboys’ 23-17 defeat to the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers, the Earth will continue to revolve around the sun as another postseason goes on without the third-seeded team. Dallas couldn’t run a final play before the clock hit zero after quarterback Dak Prescott dashed 17 yards to the San Francisco 24-yard line, serving as a microcosm of its performance.

There was an abundance of disorder. The 49ers swayed and cheered. In search of an explanation, the Cowboys claimed that it never came. In response to the game’s conclusion, some spectators threw trash onto the field. Afterward, Prescott was informed that the behavior was meant for the officials.

They deserve credit for that, Prescott said.

Prescott’s season ended about an hour and fifteen minutes before he took the stage Sunday night, and the emotions were still raw, sore, and visceral. A reasonable person could not disagree with him that the Cowboys were underachievers.

No matter how well they did in the NFC East, they couldn’t seem to get anything going against good teams, even after sweeping their rivals and scoring the most points ever in the franchise’s history (albeit in only 17 games).

Nick Bosa (concussion), and Fred Warner (ankle) were both injured during the game, but San Francisco still qualified as a better team than that. In the last three and a half months, Dallas has only faced one other team with a winning record — the Philadelphia Eagles, who last week fielded their 11th-stringers.

Throughout the season, Jones said, “we had a team that would disappoint to some degree, but then turn around and show.” ‘We had to show this game,’ he said.

San Francisco will face Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs next weekend, where Prescott’s third loss in five playoff games will be analyzed to find out what went wrong in the Cowboys’ defeat.

On Sunday, the Cowboys lost because of a series of mistakes, including 14 critical penalties and bad laterals, strange coaching decisions, and passes that got lost in the sun. In one sequence, the Cowboys faked a punt and it worked. But before the next play, they were called for delaying the game. In the third quarter, another punt went through the goalposts. Referee Alex Kemp called for a do-over because that was “very strange.”

If only, the Cowboys might have thought, that reprieve could have been for the whole game. They didn’t get their first first down until they were behind by 10 points. At the half, they had 110 yards. They let five sacks happen.

When they got the ball back late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to take the lead, a promising drive stalled in San Francisco territory because of a sack and three incomplete passes. The third one just missed Cedrick Wilson’s diving hands by a few inches.

That pass summed up Prescott’s whole game. Last week, after Prescott scored five touchdowns in Philadelphia, which gave the Cowboys more confidence for Sunday, he asked Coach Mike McCarthy what was needed.

McCarthy said, “I need you to stay just the way you are.”

Even if Prescott didn’t change as a person, his passes did. They went high, far, and wide. In the third quarter, K’Wuan Williams dove and caught Prescott’s pass at the Dallas 26-yard line

49ers receiver Deebo Samuel told Coach Kyle Shanahan before the next play that he desired the ball. San Francisco led 23-7 with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter after Samuel’s touchdown run, cutting inside and racing through a crease in the middle of the field.

Mike McDaniel, the offensive coordinator for the 49ers, said last week that people have been trying to find the next Deebo. “The issue is that there is only one Deebo.”

He is not with the Cowboys. But they did have Prescott, a great group of receivers, a good running game, and an aggressive defense that led the NFL in taking away passes. The Cowboys were not a complete team, but there was no such thing as a complete team in the playoffs. This may be why Jones said again last week in a radio interview that their goal was “unquestionably” to win a championship.

Since it opened in 2009, the Cowboys have won as many playoff games at AT&T Stadium (three) as the Alabama Crimson Tide. This is because the Cowboys are known for winning championships. Sunday, there were a lot of 49ers fans in Texas for the start of a fierce playoff rivalry that had been dormant for a while. The stands were filled with deep red. For a long time, San Francisco and Dallas seemed to fight almost every year for the best team in their conference, even though they hadn’t met in the playoffs since January 1995.

Cowboys Next Game
Cowboys Next Game

The Cowboys beat Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl the next year, but since then they haven’t even made it to the conference championship game. In that time, the 49ers have been to five playoff games and two Super Bowls. They lost both, including the one against Kansas City two years ago when Jimmy Garoppolo threw a deep pass over the middle to Emmanuel Sanders instead of to himself.

On Sunday, Garoppolo’s accuracy in the first three quarters helped the 49ers gain yards after the catch. However, in the fourth quarter, he threw a pass that was intercepted by Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown, which led to a touchdown for the Cowboys and set them up for one last comeback. They were both arrogant and brave when they called a running play with 14 seconds left and no timeouts.

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Prescott said that the many times they practiced it gave him the confidence that it was both the right call and that they had enough time for it. They liked the pass plays they could run from the 24-yard line. But those times didn’t take into account things like when the umpire bumped Prescott and couldn’t set the ball in time for the last snap. Instead of giving the ball to the umpire, as Prescott said he was told to do, he gave it to the center, Tyler Biadasz. McCarthy said that Prescott made a mistake.

Still, McCarthy said, “It shouldn’t have been hard to get the ball there.”

They did, though. They had a lot of problems. Jones wouldn’t talk about possible staff changes or how the team was getting ready. He will now try to figure out why Dallas was the only higher-seeded team to lose in five of the league’s six wild-card games. Once a dynasty, now a one-off, and never the winner.

The date is January 16, 2022.

A previous version of this article had the wrong date for when a Cowboys drive stopped in 49ers territory because of a mistake in the editing. Not the second, but the end of the fourth quarter.

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