This game was by far the biggest test for the Dallas Cowboys this season. Against the San Francisco 49ers, they failed it badly. After so much anticipation, it was more than disappointing to see them look so very bad in losing 42-10.
All the doubts and questions about Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott will just increase in volume this week. And they are legitimate. Dallas has been unable to handle San Francisco for three years now, and they looked further than ever from being able to do in this dismal performance. Having the starting offensive line on the field for the first time all year made absolutely no difference for this game.
Things were very rough for the Cowboys from the very beginning. After they deferred to start the game. On the first play, Donovan Wilson was caught grabbing the facemask of Christian McCaffrey to get them out across the 40, and they just marched easily down the field to cap the drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brock Purdy to George Kittle. They also picked up an offsides call against Micah Parsons, and another on the extra point. With 11:10 left in the first quarter, Dallas was already in a seven-point hole and had three flags already. It was about as bad a start as they could have, and this is a team that had yet to show they could play well from behind. That was borne out on the first offensive series for them, as they had a failed first down run and then Dak Prescott was high on his first two pass attempts to go three and out.
But the next 49ers possession, the Dallas defense was able to get quickly off the field thanks to Johnathan Hankins getting a big mitt up and knocking Purdy’s pass down on third and two. That would not do the Cowboys much good as Nick Bosa would sack Prescott on their own third and two. Two possessions, two punts for Dallas as their offense sputtered.
The defense again shot themselves in the foot after anther Hankins knock down set up a third and five when Jayron Kearse lined up a full yard offsides in a truly mystifying mistake. They would redeem themselves afterwards, after the Niners had a delay penalty. Stephon Gilmore and DaRonBland had back to back pass breakups, then Dante Fowler got a tackle for a loss with a bit of an assist from Micah Parsons to force another punt.
Then disaster struck as the Cowboys had to try and come out from their five. Fred Warner punched the ball loose from Tony Pollard, and San Francisco recovered at the Dallas 16 just before the end of the first quarter. But on the first play of the second, McCaffrey would lose the ball and Jourdan Lewis, who tackled CMC on top of himself, came up with the ball at the Dallas two-yard line. But they would be forced to punt again after another Prescott sack.
A good punt return set the 49ers up at the Dallas 38. It would only take them one play, a Kittle score on a flea flicker pass from Purdy. With 13:16 left in the second quarter, the Cowboys were down 14-0, and the hill just kept looking steeper for them to climb to get back into the game.
They would start the next possession from their own 22, and had not made a first down yet. And more bad news came fast as Tyler Biadasz went down on the first play of the drive. That brought Brock Hoffman in at center.
Dallas would finally get their initial first down on their version of the tush push after a Brandin Cooks run gave them third and inches. A few plays later, Jake Ferguson would finally get the Cowboys into the San Francisco end of the field. Tyler Biadasz came back in, and on his first play, Prescott found KaVontae Turpin deep for a 26-yard touchdown pass, and the deficit was halved. More importantly, Dallas looked to finally be in this game.
Donovan Wilson would draw flags, though, getting flagged for taunting and unnecessary roughness, although the referees misidentified it as Kearse. That would extend the drive, and they would cash in with a McCaffrey touchdown a few plays later.
However, there was a personal foul after the play on San Francisco, and Mike McCarthy elected to take it on the ensuing kickoff to try for better field position. It would get them the ball at their own 35 with 2:32 left in the first half. Prescott came back on the field with tape on the middle finger of his throwing hand, which may or may not have had something to do with yet another three and out, forcing a punt back to the home team on the first play after the two minute warning.
The defense made a stand and got the ball back for their offense with 50 seconds and two timeouts to try and do something before halftime. But they could do nothing, and it was 21-7 at the intermission.
Turpin was out with an ankle problem so Rico Dowdle handled the return to start the second half. The first good reception by CeeDee Lamb of the game would get them into Niners territory quickly, but they stalled and had to settle for an automatic Brandon Aubrey 50-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 11.
However, Purdy was much more on his game than Prescott, and rapidly had his team back in the red zone, and Kittle would get his third score of the game, his first three TD performance of his career.
It was becoming clear that the Cowboys were being outclassed in all aspects of this game as the margin was now 18 points. There was still over 22 minutes left to play, but it would take a major improvement by Dallas in execution to have even a slim chance in this one. And Prescott would overshoot on a deep ball to try and make something happen and have his second interception of the night as things were beginning to really snowball.
It began to resemble a true avalanche as the score ballooned to 35-10 on the second play of the fourth quarter. On the ensuing Cowboys “drive” Fred Warner gathered in a deflected ball for the third turnover by Dallas of the night, the third interception of the year for the Cowboys, and it just took one play to make the score 42-10 in what was becoming a true massacre. Prescott would throw a third pick to just emphasize how bad things were this evening, and insult was added to injury as Sam Darnold came in at QB to finish the game for SF, along with several other backups. That was the only thing that seemed to slow their offense down, since Dan Quinn’s crew wasn’t able to. The pass rush was almost completely absent and the run defense was again vulnerable. There were so many problems in this game, it is depressing to try and enumerate them all.
Prescott would also go to the bench to keep him from joining the ranks of the injured, with Cooper Rush relieving him, and a lot of other starters also sat the rest of the way.
Not only did the Cowboys lose in embarrassing fashion, they had multiple injuries, including Turpin, Bland, Wilson, Leighton Vander Esch, and special teams ace C.J. Goodwin. Those could all have big impacts down the road, and this did not look like a team that could manage to handle those. This game was nothing but bad news for them, and the road to the playoffs just got much, much harder.