The ninth meeting in the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers playoff rivalry lived up to hype of the previous eight heated chapters. In a defensive battle, San Francisco edged past Dallas by holding them to just six points in the second half and with a clutch fourth quarter rushing touchdown by running back Christian McCaffrey. With the win, the 49ers have punched their ticket to their third conference championship in the last four years.
"I feel great. We had a feeling it was going to be like that and prepared that way," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "We had a lot of respect for that team, all three of their phases. We knew how good their defense was too, and we felt we really had to run the ball too just to negate their pass rush just because of how special of a pass rush they have... The defense getting those turnovers, the offense being able to make some third downs... winning the turnover battle was everything after that."
Here are six takeaways from the NFC Divisional Round game:
Playoff Deommodore Lenoir
The second-year cornerback is averaging an interception a game this postseason after picking off Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott late in the first quarter of Sunday's contest. The cornerback intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Michael Gallup on third-and-nine and returned it for six yards to set up San Francisco's offense on the Dallas 21 yard line. The 49ers were able to capitalize on the turnover all thanks to a 26-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould. Lenoir nabbed his first pick of the postseason last weekend against the Seattle Seahawks in the game's final frame.
Special Team Star Samson Ebukam
The defensive lineman shined on a second quarter special teams play, robbing the Cowboys of the extra point following their first score of the game. Ebukam got a hand on Dallas kicker Brett Maher's PAT kick and effectively blocked the ball from going through the uprights.
Golden Boot from Robbie Gould
The veteran kicker is the gold standard for postseason kickers and remains perfect in the playoffs after sinking five kicks (four field goals, one PAT) against the Cowboys. Gould hit field goals from 26 yards, 28 yards, 47 yards and 50 yards out. He is 29-of-29 all time in field goal attempts and 39-of-39 in PATs all-time in the playoffs.
Fred Warner Piles on the Picks
Takeaway No. 2 of this playoff battle belongs to All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner, who notched his second interception of the year in the final two minutes of the first half. Warner returned his pick for 16 yards to set up quarterback Brock Purdy and the 49ers offense on San Francisco's 28 yard line. Th team was also able to cash in on the ensuing possession with a 50-yard field kick from Gould.
"It sure felt like us," Warner said. "That one drive when they went on a 12-play drive and scored on us, we kind of broke down in coverage a couple times, they had some third-and-shorts they converted, but for the most part it felt like us. Obviously, we know that we have to play big time football in the playoffs and have a chance to win this next game."
George Kittle's Gorgeous Catch
Memorable catches happen when these two franchises battle it out in the playoffs. This may not be equivalent to "The Catch" of 1981 from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, but it was a sight to behold. The 49ers offense was reenergized late in the third quarter after watching Purdy hit tight end George Kittle for 30 yards en route to a 91-yard touchdown scoring drive. Kittle got a hand on the ball and bobbled it several times before making the impressive grab. It's a "you had to be there" type of play, so make sure to watch down below.
"Explosives can jumpstart you better than anything," Shanahan said. "He definitely wasn't the primary (target) on that, and they defended the play very well. Brock came back to the inside, and Kittle just saw an opening and went down there and Brock let it rip. He did a hell of a job seeing him in that spot, and Kittle made a hell of a catch."
Run CMC, Playoff Edition
The 49ers do-it-all back continues to make an impact week in and week out. In the NFC Divisional Round, Christian McCaffrey had 10 carries for 35 yards and a touchdown on the ground and added six catches for 22 yards through the air. The running back's rushing touchdown was the 49ers first six-point score of the game and also marks McCaffrey's first-career postseason rushing touchdown. His previous two playoff touchdowns were passing scores (2017 Wild Card, 2022 Wild Card).
Purdy Makes History, Again
The rookie quarterback continues to hit historic benchmarks throughout San Francisco's postseason. Purdy is now undefeated in his eight appearances for San Francisco and is one of just three rookie quarterbacks in the Super Bowl Era to win two playoffs games (Joe Flacco in 2008, Mark Sanchez in 2009). He closed out the day connecting on 19-of-29 passes for 214 yards and a passer rating of 87.4.
"Credit to Dallas, they did a great job playing physical, stopping the run, making us throw more than we anticipated, but it just sort of came down to executing once we got into the red zone and things like that," Purdy said. "Overall, it was a great challenge for us."