SANTA CLARA, Calif. – And the next morning, we’re certainly wondering why, why again, not to those same San Francisco 49ers. Not when all seemed well in the world of the Cowboys.
They finished the 2022 regular season at 12-5. Finished with a 6-1 record against teams with a winning record. I went to Tampa, Florida last Monday and put the buccaneers down. Beat Tom Brady for the first time in eight tries.
Rolled into this NFC Divisional Playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers with a confident mindset, ready for this test. Big Sunday for football. Large grassy area. Could have used it to put. Healthy as you might wish to be in week 20 of an NFL season. And a bit of symmetry in the air, having come to the Bay Area 30 years ago to win their first NFC title game in 14 seasons.
So why, for our life, why Niners 19, Cowboys 12?
Why here at Levi’s Stadium under that azure Sunday sky? Why were the Cowboys shorted by this team, of course, on an 11-game winning streak, but starting a quarterback caught with the absolute last pick in the 2022 draft?
Why, once again, have the Cowboys been unable to break that NFC Divisional Round failure streak, dating back to the 1996 season, now reaching six games in a row? Still one step away from reaching the NFC Championship Game for the first time since that 1995 season, 27 years ago.
They scored just 12 points, the third-fewest of the season, and in these playoffs, you better score if you’re planning on winning these games. Eight of the 10 winners of those first 10 NFL playoff games have scored at least 27 points. With both failing, Cincinnati won with 24 over the Ravens and, uh, the Niners only needed to score 19 to beat the Cowboys.
Let’s continue with the whys.
Dak Prescott can’t return the ball twice more, giving him 17 interceptions for the 13 games he has played. Both were a bit odd, with Dak anticipating Michael Gallup’s comeback after his hitch, but the receiver kept going deep for an easy pick, the other trying to thread a needle for another spike interception.
Then there was that Cowboys offensive line, for the majority of the game, no game for the NFL’s No. 1 overall defense and No. 2 run defense. The 49ers bet the Cowboys wouldn’t be able to protect Dak well enough, even though they only fired him once but continuously sent blitzes to harass him while winning their bet.
And an offensive line that has led this team all season has been no match for the Niners’ run defense, especially after the Cowboys lost Tony Pollard late in the second quarter with a broken bone. left fibula and fearing further ankle ligament damage.
Then when you can’t run the ball effectively like the Cowboys couldn’t, you probably end up struggling on third down, converting just 5 of 15 (33.3%), with eight of those third and 5 or more. And this is a team that ends the regular season converting 45.5% of its third downs and at least 50% in nine of its previous 18 games.
But the Cowboys’ most egregious transgressions were these:
Kicker Greg Maher, while 2 out of 2 field goal attempts were blocked, saw his low kick on the game’s first extra point blocked. Minus a point there.
Then, with the Cowboys in the scoring position, second and second on the Niners’ 18-yard line, probably at least a safe field goal, Dak is chosen. Minus three at least. It is now minus four. Worse still, the Cowboys defense allowed San Francisco to roll pretty close as halftime ended for the third of Robbie Gould’s four field goals, this one from 50 yards out which, without the interception of Prescott, would probably never have been marked. That’s now seven points.
And on top of that, with the score tied at 9-9 and the Cowboys’ Damone Clark recovering a fumbled San Fran punt return forced by Kelvin Joseph at the 49ers 21-yard line, and advancing to a first-and-a-half at the On January 9, the Cowboys were forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal when a touchdown was expected. Minus four more points. It’s been 11 now.
In particularly playoff games, the winners make plays.
“You have to make plays when you have opportunities to make plays,” Jayron Kearse said, understandably distraught. “We didn’t do them and they did tonight.”
And then after all that, well, two more things. With the score tied at 9-9, the Cowboys defense that held the 49ers to just 28 yards rushing with 5:58 left in the third quarter, began to flee. For the remainder of the course, the 49ers rushed for 91 yards while scoring 10 more points.
They did this by fielding no more than two wide receivers most of the time, becoming heavy with a fullback or two tight ends, and sometimes three running backs, fielding Deebo Samuel in the backfield as the Cowboys continued to play. with their big nickel tusk.
And here’s even more disappointing: That Cowboys defense kept the electric Deebo to just 56 total yards on eight touches and Niners dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey to 57 yards on 16 touches. It’s not even five meters to the touch.
Plus, and here’s the killer on defense, even though the Cowboys held Frisco to just 19 points, they knew going in that Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan is protecting rookie Purdy by only asking him to throw the ball down the middle. . None of that deep stuff. Down with the hashes. Quick inclines. Use your tight end, with Greg Kittle finishing with five catches for 95 of Purdy’s 214 passing yards. And for God’s sake, don’t throw the ball at Trevon Diggs. All he had to do was read the midfield.
The Cowboys really missed cornerbacks Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis in this one, both out for the season with injuries.
It’s funny how this playoff stuff works. The things you worry about or need to cover during the regular season end up haunting you. Your corners in front of Diggs. Your kicker who had missed five of his last six extra points, and the NFL’s best four in the win over Tampa Bay. And Dak’s wave of interceptions. And damn if these evils did not manifest themselves.
But the straw that broke the camel’s back only scores 12 points. Twelve now, the third-fewest all season, two of those outings in the last three games.
The smallest number? Well, but a field goal in the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay. Then the six in the last game of the season against Washington. Now those meager 12. At least in the other three losses, they scored 17 in the loss to Philadelphia, 28 in the overtime loss to Green Bay and 34 in the overtime loss to Jacksonville.
That means they started the season giving up just 19 points in the loss to Tampa Bay. And they ended the season giving up 19 points again in the loss to San Francisco.
“It’s tough, it’s not something you prepare for,” head coach Mike McCarthy said after being asked what he told the team. “I never prepared myself for a discussion about losing a game. You feel like you’ve had opportunities to win and be confident. In those times, you just have to be real and authentic.
“I mean, it’s raw, it’s raw. I mean, it’s raw in the locker room right now.”