As history has told, the matchups between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have had some plays for the ages and fantastic finishes and this year's Wild Card round was no different. In both teams' first meeting in the postseason since Jan. 15, 1995, San Francisco dominated the majority of the contest before a slew of fourth quarter mistakes gave Dallas a chance to rally back. It was the 49ers defense who got the final stop as time expired, giving San Francisco the 23-17 victory over Dallas.
"It was pretty emotional out there," Kyle Shanahan said postgame. "Lots of opportunities, I thought, we had to win the game. I feel like we did on a number of times. But those guys just kept fighting and we had a couple mistakes there at the end that shouldn't have let get there. But just coming out and finishing that game especially in that environment was a hell of a win by the guys."
Here are a few takeaways from the game:
Strong First Half
After losing the coin toss, San Francisco opened the game on offense and put together one of their most dominant drives of the year. Featuring three passes and four carries, the 49ers drove down the field 75 yards and capped the four minute drive with a 4-yard touchdown run by Elijah Mitchell where the rookie running back hit the outside untouched as he crossed the goal line.
Defensively, San Francisco didn't allow anything from Dak Prescott and Co. to open the game. An incomplete pass, followed by a tackle for loss by Dre Greenlaw and a split sack by Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam swiftly ended Dallas' opening drive.
Garoppolo and Co. followed up with another promising drive that was marred by a Dallas pressure that forced a tackle for loss and a delay of game penalty. On 3rd-and-21, Kyle Juszczyk hauled in a pass from Garoppolo where his extra effort on the 10-yard reception moved the 49ers into field goal range. The 49ers were able to get points on the drive by way of a Robbie Gould 53-yard field goal to extend their first quarter lead to 10-0.
Through the first quarter, San Francisco outperformed Dallas in total yards (110:7), rushing yards (48:1), first downs (9:1), yards per play (5.8:0.9) and time of possession (11:18:3:42).
It took late in the first half for Dallas to find some momentum. A nice kickoff return set Dallas up at their own 33 yard line. The Cowboys managed to drive down the field and on 3rd-and-5, Prescott dialed up a perfect pass in the right corner of the end zone for Amari Cooper for Dallas' first score of the game in their first trip in 49ers territory.
That was the Cowboys lone trip to the end zone in the first half, as San Francisco made a number of key stops on their final drive to keep the team scoring in back-to-back possessions coming out of the half.
Garoppolo had a nice first half, making several key throws to Travis Benjamin, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. He completed 11-of-14 passes for 133 yards and a 106.2 passer rating through the first two quarters, compared to Prescott's 9-of-16 passing for 89 yards and a score.
San Francisco scored on each of their first half possessions.
|Total Net Yards||203||110|
|Yards Per Play||6.2||3.9|
|Penalties `||1 (5)||5 (39)|
|Time of Possession||19:16||10:44|
San Francisco's defense forced a quick three and out to open the second half that featured two false starts and a sack by Arik Armstead. But a brutal roughing the kicker penalty immediately gave Dallas the ball back.
On the second try, San Francisco still managed to hold off Dallas on three-consecutive downs, forcing a Cowboys punt.
On their ensuing drive on 1st-and-15, D.J. Jones burst through the middle of the line and wrapped up Prescott for a 13-yard sack. On the very next play, nickel corner K'Waun Williams picked off the quarterback inside of Cowboys territory on a pass intended for wide receiver Cedrick Wilson.
San Francisco instantly capitalized off of the turnover with a Samuel handoff. The wideout found a hole and then reversed field up the middle into the end zone on a 1-play, 26-yard score to extend San Francisco's lead, 23-7.
The tides began to turn in the fourth quarter after Garoppolo was intercepted by cornerback Anthony Brown. The costly interception cut San Francisco's lead to six as Prescott scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown five plays later.
San Francisco needed a first down with Dallas out of timeouts to win the game. On 3rd-and-10, Samuel took an end around to the first down marker, however, after multiple re-evaluations from the officiating crew, the wideout was ruled down inches shy.
On the ensuing play, a quarterback sneak was reversed due to left tackle Trent Williams not being set before the ball was hiked. After the penalty and a delay of game, San Francisco was forced to punt with just under :40 seconds left of the clock.
Prescott connected on three-straight passes to the sideline that moved Dallas inside of San Francisco territory.
On 2nd-and-1 at the 49ers 41 yard line, the quarterback rushed up the middle for 17 yards as the Cowboys rushed to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball. Dallas couldn't get the spike in time as the clock expired giving San Francisco the victory.
Special Teams Woes
San Francisco's special teams struggled, allowing two returns for 50 yards. The unit also allowed a fake punt for a first down. Fortunately for the 49ers, Dallas was limited to a field goal on the mishap – the Cowboys second score of the game.
Performances of Note
Mitchell finished his first postseason contest with 96 yards rushing on 27 carries and a score.
Aiyuk made a number of clutch catches with his lone miss coming on a wide open overthrow. He led San Francisco's pass catchers with five receptions for 66 yards.
Emmanuel Moseley led the 49ers defense with 12 tackles.
Samuel finished his outing hauling in all three of his targets for 38 yards and added 72 yards rushing on 10 carries and a touchdown.
Despite almost allowing Dallas to come back, San Francisco dominated the time of possession 33:57 to the Cowboys 26:03.
The 49ers defense limited Dallas to 77 yards rushing, 4.4 yards per play and 5-of-14 on third downs.
"Our goal was to keep them under 100 (yards)," Armstead said. "They're 1-5 when they rush for under 100 yards and we've been doing a great job stopping the run for a while now and we gotta keep it going."
Jordan Willis went down in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return.
Bosa took a knee to the helmet in the second quarter and did not return to the game as he remained in the concussion protocol. The edge rusher had three tackles and a half sack in the first half before being ruled out of the game.
Fred Warner suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. He, along with Willis and Bosa, will be re-assessed when the team returns to the SAP Performance Facility on Monday.
Despite losing multiple starters, San Francisco's defense continued to pressure Prescott. The 49ers totaled five sacks on the day, including a strip sack by Charles Omenihu. Jones, Armstead, Ebukam, Bosa and Kevin Givens all notched at least 0.5 sacks.
"I think it says so much about our guys all year," Shanahan said. "To lose two of our best players, captains, and be able to protect a lead like that too. When you're missing your middle linebacker and you're missing our best pass rusher, the guys stepped it up in their place. And I think you guys have been seeing guys do that these last couple months too. Just how much all guys who haven't been playing just have been fighting these last couple months to get back and to get healthy enough to play against the (Los Angeles) Rams and this week to play in the playoffs - couldn't have done it without all those guys."
The 49ers will travel to Lambeau Field to take on the first-place Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. Time and date will be announced at a later time.