Unfortunately, the Dallas Cowboys saw their playoff run end in the divisional round in a 19-12 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It was a game where crucial mistakes, mainly two more interceptions and several other bad balls thrown by Dak Prescott, were too much to overcome. While this season still showed progress from 2021, the hopes had risen, and this one was hard to take.
After last January’s debacle against the 49ers, one of the main objectives coming into this game for the Cowboys was to not fall behind early. The defense came out strong on the first 49ers possession, with Osa Odighizuwa sacking Brock Purdy to help force a three and out. Each team would have another punt before the first potential danger point for Dallas. On third and nine from his own 21, Prescott made his first bad decision and was picked off by Deommodore Lenoir, who returned the ball back to the 21. The defense was able to stand strong in the red zone and forced the 49ers to settle for a Robbie Gould field goal.
The Cowboys responded with a 74-yard drive, capped with a four-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to Dalton Schultz. It looked like the offense was settling down, but then the story we so desperately did not want to return reared it’s hideous head. On the extra point attempt, Brett Maher had his kick blocked. It wouldn’t have mattered, because replay showed that Maher hooked the kick badly. It did at least stake the team to a 6-3 lead early in the second quarter.
The ensuing drive saw San Francisco finding some offense. Aided by a personal foul on a DaRon Bland tackle that was deemed too rough, they got to the Dallas 29, but good pressure on Purdy once again held them to a field goal to tie the game with under four minutes left in the first half.
The Maher missed kicks were one thing that Dallas could ill afford. Prescott interceptions were another, and that struck again. The Cowboys got to the 49ers 18, with a fourth and four conversion that indicated there was no faith in Maher, Prescott again lost a defensive back in coverage. Jimmie Ward dove in front of the ball and it deflected to Fred Warner. Additionally, Tony Pollard was injured on the drive and would be lost for the game with a high ankle sprain.
Then a defensive breakdown let the 49ers get to the Dallas 32, allowing Gould to kick his third field goal of the game and leaving the Cowboys trailing 9-6 at half.
As the score indicates, it was a defensive first half. One thing that was a positive development was that the ground game already had 55 yards, with some unaccustomed positive first down runs. But the loss of Pollard cast a shadow on that.
Coming out of half, the Cowboys had to punt after getting an initial first down. Then they got their first big break of the game as Kelvin Joseph punched the ball free from Ray-Ray McCloud and Damone Clark came out of the pile with the recovery. That set Dallas up at the 21 of the Niners. But the drive stalled after getting to the six-yard line, and Cowboys nation held their collective breath as Maher came out to try a 25-yard attempt. Just as we were all about to pass out, he drove the ball right through the middle of the uprights to tie the game. Another injury concern cropped up as CeeDee Lamb had to have a finger taped up after a big catch.
But the special teams came up with another way to fail as they let McCloud redeem himself with a 53-yard return to the Dallas 47. But this time, the defense held firm, dropping Deebo Samuel for a four yard loss to help force a quick punt.
This was shaping up for a game where the winner would probably be the team that could avoid further major mistakes. And from his own nine-yard line, Prescott would find Lamb who showed not ill effects as he hauled in 46-yard bomb despite being interfered with on play. But they would fail to convert a third and five. They took a delay of game to give Bryan Anger more room to try and pin San Francisco deep. They would take over at their own nine. But an offsides on DeMarcus Lawrence seemed to give them a lift, and Purdy would find George Kittle for 30 yards.
Christian McCaffrey also seemed to start finding his groove after being bottled up to that point. The defense almost got a stop to force another field goal, but first Trevon Diggs dropped a tipped ball that hit him right in the hands and then Donovan Wilson got caught taking Kittle down on a play where Purdy was being sacked gave them new life at the Dallas 15. Then a defensive holding call on Johnathan Hankins just made it worse. It was especially galling as early in the game replay caught Zack Martin being hauled down exactly the same way with no laundry coming out. That would lead to McCaffrey busting up the gut for a three-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
It was the biggest deficit of the game for the Cowboys, and at this point their mistakes were piling up. They needed a spark, and Kavontae Turpin, who already had returns of 26 and 35 yards, did his best with a 44-yard kickoff return that almost went all the way. Lamb would go over 100 yards receiving for the game on the drive, but Prescott would miss a connection with him on third and eight. That brought Maher back out for a 43-yard attempt. But maybe the yips were in his rearview as he made it easily, drawing Dallas within four.
There was still plenty of time with over 11 minutes on the clock, but they needed a stop first. And the defense was starting to show some cracks. As the 49ers burned time, it became an imperative to hold them to no more than a field goal. They would manage to do that much, but now trailed 19-12 with just 3:04 left in regulation. Dallas had to drive the length of the field to get in the end zone. If they could manage that much, they had to decide whether to trust Maher to tie it, or go for two and the lead.
They would face an 83-yard field, and Prescott almost threw his third pick on the first play from scrimmage to end things. Then he badly missed Gallup streaking deep and would be sacked on third and ten. They were forced to punt and there was just 2:05 on the clock when the fair catch was hauled in. After getting a first down as the two minute warning hit, San Francisco would see Elijah Mitchell burst outside right tackle to get 13 yards and another first. Dallas would get the ball back but only have 45 seconds and 94 yards of green for a last gasp attempt. They came up short on a truly desperate gadget play from their own 24, and now face the long offseason that will be plagued by the renewed talk of whether Prescott is really able to lead this team to a championship.