SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

49ers’ defense carries team to tight divisional win over Cowboys

Jan 22, 2023, 9:00 PM | Updated: Jan 23, 2023, 8:36 am
The San Francisco defense celebrates an interception during the NFL NFC Divisional Playoff game bet...
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 22: The San Francisco defense celebrates an interception during the NFL NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers on January 22, 2023, at Levis Stadium in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In a game where physicality and defense reigned supreme, the 49ers got the job done when it mattered most.

The San Francisco 49ers outlasted the Dallas Cowboys, 19-12, to advance to the NFC Championship game in Philadelphia next weekend. Holding Dallas to six second-half points in a playoff game, the Red & Gold defense staked their claim as the No.1 unit in the NFL once again.

Sunday’s divisonal clash was close from the opening kickoff, neither team willing to give an inch defensively. The 49ers struggled to get things going in the first quarter, going three & out on the opening drive. A combination of lackluster offensive line play and pressure in the backfield led to rookie quarterback Brock Purdy having trouble getting drives going.

On the flip side, QB Dak Prescott had his own share of struggles. His play from last week did not translate over to the West Coast, tossing two interceptions Sunday.

The first came in opening quarter. Prescott steps-back to throw towards wide receiver wide receiver Michael Gallup but completely misses cornerback Deommodore Lenoir lurking the play. Tossing a soft comeback pass, Lenoir poaches the ball and take it back to the Cowboys’ 21-yard-line.

Unfortunately, the 49ers were unable to capitalize fully, settling for three points after seven offensive plays.

3-0, 49ers at the end of the first quarter.

Dallas came to life on the next possession, bouncing back for a 14-play 79-yard drive. Prescott capped off the almost eight-minute drive with a four yard pass to tight end Dalton Schultz for the touchdown. The 49ers did get a consolation prize though, blocking Brett Maher’s PAT attempt to make it a three-point contest.

The next two possessions were better for San Francisco, able to string together ten and eight-play drives. But yet again, the 49ers were stymied, faced to settle for two field goals by Robbie Gould.

The second one was a bigger story, as Prescott and Dallas were driving on a seven-play drive to close out the first half. But then, another turnover by the Cowboys QB. Looking to thread the needle to WR CeeDee Lamb, 49ers safety Jimmie Ward got to it first, tipping the ball to linebacker Fred Warner for the second INT of the day.

A huge momentum-swinging play that gave the 49ers time to operate.

San Francisco was able to muster enough plays to get inside field-goal range. Purdy’s pass to WR Jauan Jennings for 22 yards was the biggest of the drive, getting out-of-bounds inside Cowboys’ territory.

Gould came on once again to make it 9-6 at the halfway point.

After the break, the 49ers’ defense remained stout, forcing Dallas into a punt on their first possession of the second half. Then disaster struck in the form of a fumble.

Catching a routine punt, WR Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled the ball during his return, coughing it up into the Cowboys’ hands at the 49ers’ 21-yard-line. A massive mistake that could have been disastrous. Luckily, the 49ers held strong, forcing Dallas to settle for a field goal inside the redzone.

9-9 halfway through the third quarter.

That stop seemed to ignite the Red & Gold’s defense for the rest of the game, forcing another punt on the next possession.

Then the 49ers got it going on offense too. The biggest play of the game came on a play-action bootleg to the left. Purdy looked for a while before going back to tight end George Kittle down the seam. Kittle bobbled the ball for a eternity, eventually coming down with it for a 29-yard gain.

Feeling the momentum, the 49ers took a 10-play, 76-yard drive to close out the third quarter. In goal-to-go starting the fourth, running back Christian McCaffrey got the rock for a two-yard run into the endzone.

16-9 49ers.

The Cowboys weren’t going away quietly though, managing to et into field goal range after a good kickoff return close to midfield. Steeping up for another kick, Maher laced it from 43 yards to make it a four-point game.

With the lead, San Francisco needed to keep the ball away from their opponents. And that they did.

Going on a 10-play, 76-yard drive, the Red & Gold chewed almost eight minutes of the fourth quarter. Thanks to a quick-strike air attack and reinvigorated run game, the 49ers got the ball all the way to Dallas’ 11-yard-line. The team wasn’t able to put the nail in the coffin though, taking the three points once again.

Down by seven with three minutes to go, the Cowboys crumbled under the spotlight. Unable to get any yards on three plays, Dallas was forced to punt in less than a minute.

The next possession, the 49ers wasted a little more clock, getting the Cowboys to burn all three timeouts before punting it away with 45 seconds.

Now backed up in their own endzone, Prescott and Dallas looked defeated. And eventually they were.

The 49ers emerged victorious to extend their winning streak to 12 games, the longest for the franchise since 1984. Despite the lackluster offensive showing, Purdy threw for 214 yards, no INTs and an 87.4 passer rating. It ewasn’;t his best game in his young career, but Purdy’s poise to get it done when he needed to is extraordinary for a rookie in the postseason.

“He made a number of plays today,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said postgame Sunday. “By no means was anything perfect for the offense or the whole team. But it seemed like playoff football today.”

Meanwhile, Purdy is already onto the next one, hoping to improve on the team’s play next weekend in Philadelphia.

“I’m still focused on the game and what we could have done to be better. Yeah, it’s cool to see the clock hit zero and it’s Niners over the Cowboys in the playoffs…Playoff football is not easy, and to go to the NFC Championship means a lot to us,” Purdy stated. 

That was the general consensus for 49ers’ players and coaches alike after the win, keeping their eyes on the prize for the foreseeable future. Only one game away from another Super Bowl trip, the time to celebrate will come if they continue to execute.

“When you work so hard to get to these points, all we could think about was winning that game. It was fun for a little bit, but then you get to the locker room, and it’s, ‘Alright let’s get on to the next one.’ We have big game this week & that’s not our ultimate goal,” Shanahan added.

The 49ers will need to improve if they want to beat the Eagles in Philly, especially after the team’s dominant win over the New York Giants the day prior. Nevertheless, the 49ers are excited for the challenge, looking to go into another hostile environment and win big next Sunday.

“To go into Philly, which is a fantastic atmosphere…It’s going to be wonderful, I know how much the fans love the opposing team. It’s going to be cold and violent and it’s going to be a blast,” Kittle said.

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