Cowboys Doomed by Miscues In opposition to 49ers Protection

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — All through the season, the Dallas Cowboys had been buoyed by an incredible protection and needed to reside with whichever model of their quarterback, Dak Prescott, that confirmed up on sport days.

He may gash defenses rapidly like he did in opposition to the Buccaneers within the wild-card spherical, when he threw for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns. Or Prescott may look confused and make poor selections, like when he completed with 128 passing yards, one landing and one interception within the regular-season finale in opposition to the Commanders.

On Sunday, the Cowboys bought the latter model of Prescott, as they misplaced to the San Francisco 49ers, 19-12, at Levi’s Stadium within the divisional spherical of the playoffs. The sport featured dominant defensive play and the 49ers goaded Prescott into two expensive first-half interceptions.

Turnovers had been a problem for Prescott all season. Regardless of lacking 5 video games with an injured thumb, Prescott completed the common season tied for the league lead in interceptions with 15. After Sunday’s loss, he referred to as his interception whole, the best of his seven-year profession, “ridiculous” and promised that the quantity would by no means be that prime once more.

“It hurts. I’m disenchanted in my play, disenchanted for the blokes within the locker room,” Prescott stated after ending with 206 yards passing, a landing and two interceptions.

Whereas Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense struggled, a lot of their errors had been compelled due to nice performs by the 49ers’ protection. One got here on the Cowboys’ second possession of the sport as Prescott tried to seek out Michael Gallup for a cross that was picked off by Deommodore Lenoir. The throw got here when Gallup had stopped working his route with Lenoir standing at his aspect. As Lenoir noticed Prescott’s throw sail brief, it shocked him and his “hyena senses” kicked in, he stated. The turnover resulted in a subject aim from Robbie Gould that gave the 49ers a 3-0 lead.

Dallas retaliated with a lengthy scoring drive that culminated with Prescott’s 4-yard landing cross to tight finish Dalton Schultz. Then the miscues continued for the Cowboys’ kicker, Brett Maher.

Maher set an N.F.L. document within the Cowboys’ win over the Buccaneers by lacking 4 extra-point makes an attempt. Sometimes, that many missed kicks would imply the tip of a kicker’s tenure with a crew. Regardless of including one other kicker to the roster forward of Sunday’s sport, the Cowboys caught with Maher, who had missed simply three further factors within the common season.

As Maher ready to kick the additional level after Dallas’s solely landing of the sport, Cowboys followers stopped swinging their blue and white towels and appeared to carry their collective breath. The kick was blocked by 49ers defensive finish Samson Ebukam. The block stored the Cowboys’ lead inside a subject aim at 6-3. Within the second half, Maher made his two subject aim makes an attempt, the one factors Dallas scored the remainder of the way in which.

One other key turnover got here on an interception by linebacker Fred Warner within the second quarter. On a protection with many stars and the potential defensive participant of the yr in defensive finish Joey Bosa, Warner could be crucial. All through the sport, Warner did just about all the pieces: stopping runners within the backfield; working stride for stride with CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys’ finest receiver, for a cross deflection; and securing an interception. Warner was a serious explanation for the Cowboys’ offensive struggles in a second half during which they’d just one drive that lasted greater than six performs.

The 49ers seemed like they had been going to place the sport away as they moved downfield within the fourth quarter main by 16-12. They ran practically eight minutes off the clock, however the Cowboys’ protection held them to a subject aim, holding the crew’s deficit inside one rating with simply over three minutes to go. Two incomplete passes and a sack adopted on Dallas’s subsequent possession. The Cowboys bought the ball as soon as extra with 45 seconds left however had been pinned on their very own 6-yard line. On the ultimate play of the sport, the Cowboys used a wierd offensive formation that had working again Ezekiel Elliot snapping the ball to Prescott. The play ended swiftly, with the receiver being tackled instantly earlier than he may begin a series of desperation laterals.

“Yeah very unusual, I don’t know in the event that they, in the event that they plan to be in that state of affairs clearly, however it didn’t work very effectively,” Warner stated.

Warner and the 49ers’ protection had seemed weak within the weeks main as much as this sport, permitting 34 factors to the Raiders backup quarterback in Week 17, and giving up 23 factors to the Seahawks within the wild-card spherical. They had been video games that the defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans beforehand stated fell beneath the crew’s customary.

On Sunday, Warner stated the 49ers’ protection performed to its potential.

“For probably the most half it felt like us, man,” Warner stated. “Clearly we all know that we bought to play big-time soccer within the playoffs have an opportunity to win this subsequent sport.”

For the 49ers, it was the primary sport during which the rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, the final choose within the 2022 draft, seemed flustered. The Cowboys’ cross rush persistently pressured Purdy, who was sacked twice. He missed a number of throws, together with a couple of that ought to have been intercepted had they not been dropped. Purdy stated after the sport that his play irritated him.

“There’s instances within the sport the place it’s like, man, I wish to be higher. I wish to capitalize on third downs, and end once we get within the purple zone,” stated Purdy, who completed with 214 passing yards and no touchdowns. “However on the similar time, man, it’s the N.F.L. It’s not simple to do by yourself. And so, for me, it’s like man I bought to do my half.”

However the crew’s star-studded supporting forged and Coach Kyle Shanahan’s play-calling did simply sufficient in opposition to a Cowboys protection that made the 49ers wrestle to achieve yards in methods they hadn’t on their 10-game successful streak to shut the common season. Working again Christian McCaffrey scored the 49ers’ solely landing within the third quarter, whereas the remainder of the scoring got here from 4 subject objectives from Gould.

The 49ers will make their second straight look in an N.F.C. championship sport and their third within the final 4 seasons once they face the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles subsequent Sunday.

Jerry Jones, the Cowboys’ proprietor and normal supervisor, instructed reporters after the sport that he thought the crew had a bonus within the sport at quarterback, however Prescott’s struggles took it away.

“I believed this crew with Dak at quarterback I believed we had an opportunity to get to and compete on the prime degree on this event,” Jones stated. “I actually did. That was our edge right here tonight — I believed.”

The loss added to a prolonged listing of painful playoff disappointments for Dallas, which has simply 5 postseason victories since final successful the Tremendous Bowl within the 1995 season. The Cowboys have zero convention championship appearances since then.