After demolishing the Buccaneers to win their first playoff road game in nearly 30 years, the end of that game started a brief euphoria for so many that follow the team on a regular basis. Due to the performance the franchise had in the Wild Card game, it seemed like if the team plays like that again then the 49ers were going down as well. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the once euphoric feeling turned into, yet again, another disappointing end to another Dallas Cowboys season by a score of 19-12. That seven-point, one-score difference in the game was simply just a let down. With the game being as highly contested as it was, there were some positives which kept the game close, but the negatives came at a higher clip which is why the game and season ended the way that it did for America’s Team.
Time to deliver this week’s grades for the Dallas Cowboys.
What a difference a week makes as the Cowboys offense sputtered after the week prior looking very much like a juggernaut
Coming off a career performance the week prior, it felt like Dak Prescott was finally breaking through in the playoffs. This was certainly the case for just a week. Prescott regressed in such a way that the hole he had dug affected the team’s overall chances in advancing to the next round of the playoffs. He did this by throwing two interceptions in the first half alone, which in both cases resulted in points being scored by the Niners offense. When a quarterback is paid top-end money at the position to be elite, then expectations are that he play elite football. Prescott simply did not play the way that he should have played. Sure, the pass catching group aside from CeeDee Lamb is lacking, but you know what elite quarterbacks do? They adapt, overcome, and give their team the best chance to win each week. Prescott simply did not make the necessary plays to really give his team the best opportunity possible to leave San Francisco with the win.
CeeDee Lamb stood out amongst his fellow pass-catching peers as he caught 10 balls for 117 yards. Aside from Lamb, the only other explosive player on offense is Tony Pollard. Unfortunately, Pollard got injured shortly before halftime and was out for the rest of the game. It was later revealed that Pollard suffered a high ankle sprain as well as a broken leg. This injury will likely take about three months to recover from. With Lamb essentially left on his own to try and make plays on offense, this unit limped to a mere 12 points on the scoreboard. Not exactly the way any team wants to head into the offseason.
The defensive unit continued to play well, and did the best they could to keep the game close
As the Cowboys offense struggled to put points on the board, it was the defensive unit that kept things close throughout Sunday’s game. 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy didn’t light the world on fire with his performance this past week, and that was because of the stellar play from the Cowboys defense. Purdy was pressured often, and was sacked a total of two times during the game. Those two sacks were split between Osa Odighizuwa and DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence arguably played his best game of the year and seemed to be near the ball almost on every play. Micah Parsons was used in a multitude of ways as he was deployed as a middle linebacker as well as an edge rusher. Parsons seemed to be more effective when playing linebacker because his speed affected the play of the 49ers two most dynamic players on offense, Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel.
McCaffrey was held to just 57 total yards, and Deebo Samuel added just 56 total yards to the Niners offensive tally. Holding both Samuel and McCaffrey to just over a 100 yards combined is no small feat, but it showed how well Parsons and the Cowboys defensive unit played as a whole.
The only player on the 49ers offense that seemingly couldn’t be held in check was tight end George Kittle. Kittle caught five passes for 95 yards, including a spectacular 31-yard circus catch that propelled the 49ers into a lead the would keep. Aside from Kittle, the unit held on as long as they could, and heading into the offseason on a positive note from this group is never a bad thing.
After a forgettable Wild Card game, the special teams unit played much better in the divisional round
All eyes were seemingly on Cowboys kicker Brett Maher after the previous performance that he had against the Buccaneers. Prior to the game, Maher was trying to warm up and some of the 49ers players decided it was a good time to get in his way so that he wouldn’t be able to fully prepare for the game. Call it whatever you want, but the word classy certainly does not come to mind on that particular sequence of events. This type of gamesmanship shouldn’t surprise anyone due to the type of rivalry these two teams have had for many years.
For a brief moment in time, it seemed that the head games worked as Maher attempted his first extra point on the day, and missed it. This missed extra point was blocked, but it was clear that it was going well left if it wasn’t blocked. Maybe the blocked kick in some weird way gave Maher the confidence again as he made the next two field goals afterwards. Maybe this is something he can build upon heading into the offseason.
Punter Bryan Anger had four punts on the evening and three of those landed inside the 20. Another quality performance from him. Return specialist KaVontae Turpin returned four kickoffs for a total of 120 yards. One of those returns almost resulted in a touchdown, if not for his kryptonite of running into players while trying to score. The return went for 44 yards, and even though he didn’t score on any returns in 2022, hopefully he is back next year to finally get his breakthrough return touchdown. The Cowboys also created a fumble on a punt coverage by Kelvin Joseph that Damone Clark recovered.