Self-inflicted mistakes cost the Dallas Cowboys in a 19-12 Divisional Round loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The defeat marks the Cowboys seventh consecutive loss in the Divisional Round. The last time Dallas advanced to the NFC Championship was the 1995 season.
The fashion in which the Cowboys lost made it all the more painful. Big D was in it until the end, but a few blunders from the offense proved to be too costly to overcome.
The defense held its own and put the team in a position to win, but a few game-changing turnovers slipped through the hands of Cowboys defenders.
Here’s everything you need to know from the loss at Levi’s Stadium:
The interception bug bit Dak again
Dak Prescott has struggled avoiding turnovers all season, but in the Wild Card Round he accounted for five total touchdowns and threw no interceptions. That performance proved to be an aberration rather than the norm for Prescott.
Dak was 23/37 passing (62%) for 206 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The first pick came on a target to Michael Gallup. Gallup completed his route, yet Dak tried to force a pass that wasn’t there. The 49ers started the ensuing drive on Dallas’ 21-yard line, and managed to score a field goal off the turnover.
The second interception came deep in San Francisco territory. Dallas was on the 49ers 18-yard line when Prescott forced a pass to a heavily-covered CeeDee Lamb. The throw was tipped and landed in the lap of a 49er, erasing a drive that likely ends in a field goal or touchdown if mistakes were avoided. But that would be asking a lot of this offense.
Tony Pollard injury spelled disaster
With 1:36 left in the second quarter, Tony Pollard was helped off the field after suffering an ankle injury. After the game, ESPN reported that Pollard fractured his fibula.
Without Pollard, all creativity in the way of play calling went out the window. The Cowboys were unable to get the rushing attack going. Ezekiel Elliott took over as RB1 and he finished with 10 carries for 26 yards, good for an abysmal 2.6 yards per attempt.
The offensive line performed well against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Yet, the Cowboys rarely took shots down field. Instead, the offense settled for a lot of short passes.
Dak was also laser focused on Lamb and Dalton Schultz after the Pollard injury. The two combined to receive 23 of 37 attempts from the QB.
With Dallas running a predictable and conservative offense, the unit put up six points in the second half.
Lamb performed well, catching 10 passes for 117 yards. The offensive line was solid too, allowing just one sack and four QB hits. But it wasn’t enough to get the victory.
Giving the defense its flowers
The Cowboys will get a lot of hate this offseason for failing in the playoffs once again. But the defense doesn’t deserve any of the flak.
Dan Quinn’s squad was porous to end the regular season, but flipped a switch in the playoffs. Micah Parsons and Co. allowed just 14 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and 19 points to a 49ers offense loaded with talent.
Brock Purdy threw at least two touchdowns in seven straight games, but Big D held the rookie scoreless. Dallas’ run defense also held up extremely well against Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell.
But late in the third quarter, the Cowboys seemed gassed and the 49ers took advantage with long drives that chewed up lots of clock. Regardless, holding an opponent to 19 points should result in a victory.
The defense does deserve some criticism for failing to capitalize on Purdy’s mistakes. In the first half, DaRon Bland had an excellent shot at intercepting a deep pass from Purdy, but Bland couldn’t finish the play.
Then in the second half, with the 49ers in the redzone, Purdy had a pass tipped by Anthony Barr. The ball fluttered into Trevon Diggs’ chest before falling incomplete.