Groundhog Day for Cowboys in San Francisco

Jan 22, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) runs from Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (90) during the third quarter of a NFC divisional round game at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Groundhog Day for Cowboys in San Francisco

What a disappointing season finale for the Dallas Cowboys.

Not all that unfamiliar for the owner/general manager, coaches, players, and fans of this organization, as the Cowboys 2022 season ends on the road in a 19-12 Divisional Playoff loss to San Francisco. It is another season that fell short of the goals set in the preseason, during the season, and in the playoffs.

Something that owner/general manager Jerry Jones has seen over and over and over and over again.

It just wasn’t in the cards this year for the Cowboys, who have not been to an NFC Championship game since the 1995 season.

It’s Groundhog Day!

On Sunday, the game was owned on the field by both defenses. In the end, the Cowboys could not find enough big plays against the 49ers to earn a road playoff victory and a chance to play for the NFC’s spot in the Super Bowl.

Instead, the offseason will be filled with a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘how comes,’ but those are for down the road.

Today, let’s focus on the big plays and moments that did and didn’t go the Cowboys’ way in Sunday’s loss.

Let’s break it down by quarter. We’ll start with what didn’t go right.

First quarter

  • Dak Prescott’s first interception: Deep in Dallas territory, Prescott’s pass intended for Michael Gallup was high and sailed right into the hands of a leaping Deommodore Lenoir. Lenoir returned it to the Dallas 21, setting up the 49ers for their first points of the game. San Francisco 3, Dallas 0

Second quarter

  • Dak Prescott’s second interception: With the game tied 6-6, the Cowboys had marched 47 yards down to the San Francisco 18, but on second-and-2, Prescott tried to squeeze in a pass to CeeDee Lamb through double coverage. Linebacker Fred Warner picked off the deflected pass to turn away Dallas with 1:15 to play in the first half. The 49ers would turn this interception into a 50-yard Robbie Gould field goal as time expired in the first half.
  • Tony Pollard’s injury: The play before Prescott’s second interception, the Cowboys’ top running back went down with what was eventually determined to be a fractured left fibula after his foot was trapped under him while dragged down from behind. Pollard was helped off the field and carted to the locker room. Pollard had gained 33 yards on eight touches, including a 10-yard run, when he went down. The Cowboys’ running game struggled in the second half without Pollard.

Third quarter

  • Bobbling catch for George Kittle: With both teams struggling to find big plays that could loosen up the defenses, San Francisco tight end George Kittle stepped up with the craziest catch of this playoff season. Purdy threw a perfect seem route that hit Kittle in the hands, but the 49ers tight end juggled it, bounced it off his facemask, and then hauled it in. Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs flashed past him but whiffed on the opportunity to knock the ball loose. It was a 30-yard catch that set up the 49ers at the Dallas 49. That drive would end with the only San Francisco touchdown of the game.
  • Trevon Diggs dropped interception: With 1:03 to play in the quarter, the game tied at 9-9, and the 49ers driving deep in Cowboys territory, quarterback Brock Purdy finally served one up to the Dallas defense as linebacker Anthony Barr deflected a pass intended for Brandon Aiyuk. The pass came off Barr’s shoulder and hit Trevon Diggs in the hands, but the Cowboys cornerback couldn’t pull it in at the Cowboys 5-yard line. Four plays later, the 49ers found the end zone, earning a 16-9 lead with less than a quarter to play.

Fourth quarter

  • Elijah Mitchell’s 4th quarter run: Mitchell provided a back-breaking run with the 49ers up seven and trying to milk the clock late in the fourth quarter. On first-and-10 on the first play after the two-minute warning, the Cowboys stopped Mitchell for a 1-yard run and burned their first timeout of the second half. But on the next play, Mitchell broke free on a 13-yard run and put the game away with a new set of downs and the clock running with under 1:47 to play.

The Cowboys only had two significant plays go their way but produced just three points. Both of those plays came in the third quarter:

  • Damone Clark fumble recovery: After the Cowboys punted on the first drive of the second half, 49ers punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud III put the ball on the turf, and Cowboys linebacker Damone Clark came up with it at the San Francisco 21. The Cowboys could only muster 14 yards before settling for a 25-yard Brett Maher field goal.
  • Deep pass to CeeDee Lamb: With the game tied 9-9, the Cowboys had a chance to put a drive together and take their first lead since 6-3. On the drive’s first play, Dak Prescott made a throw deep down the left side of the field that wide receiver CeeDee Lamb was able to haul in at the San Francisco 45 for 46 yards. Lamb made the catch despite a 49ers defender committing pass interference. The Cowboys gained just five yards from there and punted the ball away on fourth down.

Playoff games in the NFL hinge on the smallest of margins. Sunday, those margins played out in the big plays and moments of a 19-12 playoff war.

In the end, most of those situations didn’t go the Cowboys’ way. The situations that did go their way did not produce enough points to extend the season beyond Sunday afternoon.

On to the offseason with those all-too-familiar feelings of what could have been.

Hey, there’s always next year!

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