49ers defeat Cowboys to advance to NFC Championship Game; Five burning questions answered

The San Francisco 49ers punched their ticket to the NFC Championship Game for the second year in a row and third under Kyle Shanahan after beating the Dallas Cowboys 19-12 in the NFC Divisional round on Sunday evening at Levi’s Stadium.

Next up for San Francisco is the Philadelphia Eagles. The 49ers will take on the top seed in the NFC next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia with the winner advancing to Super Bowl LVIII in Glendale, Ariz.

Sunday’s matchup was a battle with both teams landing shots throughout the first half. In the fourth quarter the 49ers saw the toll their body blows had on the Dallas defense. Christian McCaffrey took the first play of the quarter in for the lone San Francisco touchdown of the game. Following a Cowboys field goal, Kyle Shanahan’s offense ran nearly eight minutes off the clock before extending the lead back to seven.

Here are five things to watch for during the game:

1.) Can Brock Purdy handle the pressure? YES

Purdy found himself under pressure from the Dallas pass rush throughout, especially in the first half. The Cowboys were able to sack Purdy twice and land four hits on the rookie quarterback.

Despite a rough start, Purdy was able to make enough plays to help take a 9-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.

As he did last week against Seattle, Purdy was on the money in the second half. The rookie quarterback connected on seven of ten attempts for 85 yards as he helped the team overcome a fumbled punt by Ray-Ray McCloud to take the lead for good on the first play of the final quarter.

Purdy finished the game 19-29, 215 yards with no touchdowns, and more importantly no interceptions.

In the second half of his first two NFL playoff starts Purdy has completed 16 of 21 attempts for 270 yards and two touchdowns. His second half passer rating is 149.9. A perfect passer rating is 158.3.

2.) Will the 49ers find success on the ground? YES, eventually.

San Francisco struggled with the Cowboys speed in the first half leading to only 27 yards on 11 attempts.

In the second half the 49ers offensive line made the necessary adjustments to the Cowboys speed. In doing so they were able to get to their assignments and pave the way for Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell to pick up 86 yards on 21.

McCaffrey got into the endzone for the deciding score to open the final quarter, and Elijah Mitchell pounded out 49 yards on 13 second half carries to take control of the game.

With 31 total carries, the 49ers improved to 30-2 under Kyle Shanahan in games they attempt at least 30 rushes.

3.) Will the 49ers defense force Dak Prescott to beat them? YES

Dallas found success on the ground throughout the first half, picking up 55 yards on 13 carries. However, an ankle injury to Tony Pollard on a reception late in the half changed the game.

With Pollard on the sideline, Dallas could muster just 19 yards on the ground in the second half.

As the ground game began to stumble, the Cowboys fate was placed on the shoulders of Dak Prescott. The veteran quarterback would prove not to be up to the task.

Prescott threw a pair of interceptions in the first half and in the second he completed just 11 of 21 attempts.

Late in the fourth quarter Prescott had Michael Gallup open deep down the middle of the field. As was the case for much of the half his throw was well off the mark, falling harmlessly to the ground.

Prescott finished the night 23-37, 206 yards, one touchdown and the two interceptions.

4.) Can the 49ers secondary keep everything in front of them? YES

For the second week in a row the 49ers secondary gave up one deep ball, however this time it did not result in any points.

Dak Prescott connected with CeeDee Lamb for 46 yards on a deep shot down the left sideline in the third quarter. A few plays later Dallas would again try to hit Lamb deep, but linebacker Fred Warner ran stride for stride with the receiver to force the incompletion leading to a Dallas punt.

No Cowboys receiver outside of Lamb would get down the field. Instead the Cowboys were forced to take underneath throws and the 49rs defenders did a good job of rallying to the ball to minimize the damage.

Dalton Schultz finished as the Cowboys second leading receiver. The tight end was targeted ten times but finished with just five receptions for 27 yards thanks to solid coverage by the 49ers safeties and linebackers.

5.) Who wins the turnover battle? San Francisco

The 49ers recorded two takeaways to only one for Dallas.

On the Cowboys second possession Deommodore Lenoir picked off Prescott on a throw along the right sideline. San Francisco took over at the Dallas 21 and used the turnover to score the first points of the game on a Robbie Gould field goal.

With the game tied and six and Dallas threatening to score, Jimmie Ward got his hand on a pass intended for Lamb. Fred Warner was in the right spot and came away with the 49ers second turnover of the game. The offense then moved the ball into field goal range and Gould hit his third field goal of the half to give San Francisco a 9-6 lead at the half.

The 49ers returned the favor when Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled on a punt return following the opening Dallas possession of the second half. Despite getting the ball at the 49ers 21, they too would manage only a field goal.

The 49ers are now 24-3 since the start of the 2021 season when they don’t turn the ball over more than their opponents.


49ers 26 Cowboys 23

This article has 31 Comments

  1. Quote…Unquote —

    “Since Brock Purdy took over the starting job, the 49ers haven’t really been tested because they haven’t faced any good teams. Purdy has looked great, but he’s faced five teams in the regular season that finished with a combined record of 35-49-1…

    “Only four rookie quarterbacks have ever made it to a conference title game and I don’t think Purdy is going to be the fifth. ”

    John Breech, CBS Sports

    Well, I think you should follow this blog, especially Jack the host and his analysis of the Niner’s players and playoff game chances.

  2. What I liked about Jimmy was that he could shake off his mistakes.
    What I like about Purdy is that he improves and learns from a shaky start!
    He went farther back in the 2nd half to give him self more time to throw.
    Brock needs 2 more notches on his belt!

  3. Great win. The Dallas defense is a lot better than I anticipated. It was obvious they were keying on McCaffery. That was the one player Dallas decided wasn’t going to beat them. Actually pretty impressed with their speed and their physicality. I didn’t think they had both. That is a Superbowl quality defense. Very impressive that Brock was able to put together a few plays when it mattered most without turning the ball over against that defense. The best thing I can say about Brock Purdy is that if Purdy and Dak switched teams then the Cowboys likely win that game.

  4. Brock Purdy played Jimmyball yesterday. Solid work yesterday by the young QB vs a tough, fast defense.

  5. I also was surprised at how good the Dallas defense was. They were a tough match up, but then every team is at this level. It seems that every teams top priority is to stop the run, hoping that they can fluster Purdy. Good strategy but so far it hasn’t worked. I would think that the Eagles will try the same strategy. Statistically the teams are pretty even overall, but the advantage for the Niners is they are a top run defense and the Eagles are not.

    1. You overlook one thing. The Niners are playing in Philadelphia. The fans there are the worst, absolute worst, in the NFL. As one commentator mentioned last night, they taunt, they ridicule, they throw objects on to the field. In fact, they even throw snowballs at Santa Claus. It’s going to be a vicious, violent game. No prisoners. You think the Niners under Brock Purdy are up for that?

  6. What people don’t get is the defenses we face get tougher in the postseason. Everyone is focused on every play, unlike the regular season when guys are going through the motions or they’re not 100% mentally in on every play. The same long drawn out running plays with multiple guys pulling and setting up a slow developing rush isn’t going to fool anyone once the real games start. Defenders are quicker to identify schemes and faster to react.

    On that end, Philly’s rush defense is still better than Dallas’ rush defense, and the Cowboys made it nigh impossible to run yesterday.

    Unless we’re capable of gashing the defense on quick hits between the tackles we’re going to have to rely on Brock Purdy, who’s shown he’s up to the task. I hope Kyle trusts him a bit more next week. The downside is the Eagles led the league with 70 sacks this year and the #1 pass defense. They also had four guys with double digit sacks.

    I hope Kyle has more conventional running schemes up his sleeve, but it’s likely going to be a long day running the ball. At this stage you better be ready to light it up through the air. Some of those wide receiver screens better be well rehearsed too, lest they’ll get blown up by this Eagles defense.

    I think it’s going to be real tough beating this Eagles team. We can do it but I’m not as confident as I was against the Cowboys and Seahawks. Still, it’s been quite a run nonetheless making it to the NFC Championship game after starting 3-4 and losing to the likes of the Bears and Broncos.

    1. To add to this- next season IST would be nice to see the team ready to play at the outset. Starting with a losing record against bottom feeders and then relying on long winning streaks to get you in the playoffs isn’t the recipe for making it to the Super Bowl. Home field is important. Yesterday’s game probably looks different in Dallas. Next weekend’s game going in looks a lot different if played in Santa Clara.

      1. I think a lot of the slow start this year was due to the QB situation and it took Jimmy a couple of games to get back in rhythm after the injured off-season. Brook and Lance should be ready to fight it out in the spring.

  7. Eagles+2.5

    That surprises me a bit. Home team usually gets 3 points. That’s basically saying the 49ers are better but home field will drive the Eagles to a victory. Eagles really don’t have a weakness. They have 3 Pro Bowlers on the O-line and they led the league in Sacks. They destroyed the Giants and the 49ers squeaked out a win against the Cowboys. I definitely think the 49ers can win this game but I expected the oddsmakers to make it Eagles +4 or even +6.

    And if there is a more unlikeable head coach than Nick Sirianni then let me know. Dude is a Grade A jackass. Truly a jerk of a human being. Would love nothing more than to humble that p***k.

    1. Yes, it surprises me too. I was going to write what you wrote (except the Sirianni part….I don’t know anything about him). I guess the odds makers have paid attention to the 49er’s 11 game win streak and their defense.

    2. Vegas is trying to cover their losses in case San Francisco gets to/wins the Super Bowl.

      You have to remember that when Jimmy Garoppolo went down the 49ers chances went into the tank, or so we thought. There were plenty of bets placed on the 49ers defense when the odds tanked and became quite favorable. If the 49ers advance, it’s going to be a big loss for the sports books. The spread likely reflects an incentive for bettors to put money on the Eagles to cover off any big losses one side or another.

    3. Sirianni mirrors the Philadelphia fans who are the worst, absolute worst, in football. 1st class jerks. When they start throwing things at Purdy and the Niners, hope the refs call it out and put an end to it immediately.l

      1. If you start worrying about such things, your mind is already off the game. I don’t think the players worry about any of that stuff.

        Well, then again it would be nice if the opposing team hotel had running hot water before the game. Somehow I feel like some shenanigans went down at the Giants team hotel last week. :)

  8. It seemed to me that in the early first half the run plays were being sniffed out. I mean sure Dallas was expecting the run obviously….but it seemed like they knew where to crash and penetrate; like they were reading the blocks of the linemen. It also seemed like the run plays were slower to develop; like they were trying to set up window dressing and were getting blown up because of Philly’s speed on defense. In the second half, I don’t know if any or what adjustments were made but it seemed like the plays were quicker hitting run plays. Inside zone runs and short area (quickly developing) inside traps (I recall Kittle pulling on occasion). Dan Quinn knows Shanahan. Maybe he saw something in the 49ers’ run game and prepared for it. Then Kyle to his credit made some adjustments?

    1. Both the Seahwaks and Dallas games our running game were stuffed in the 1st half. But KS seems made the right adjustments . We need that run game humming early on against the Eagles. If not, it will be on Purdy’s hands to win it for us. Our Def is great but our offense will need more than 19 pts against the Eagles.

  9. Even though we manifested our worst tendencies, we still won: Ray Ray, known for fumbling, did fumble; Greenlaw,
    Mr. Personal Foul, got another one, Hufanga, who can’t wrap up, missed crucial tackles, and on that play where Warner covered Lamb up the seem, Hufanga, playing deep safety, was like a statue watching some shallow routes offering zero help — he stinks. And last, but not least, Shanahan keeps calling that shot play to Aiyuk which Purdy continues to miss except for that one time when Aiyuk was so open, he caught the pass even though he had to wait for it. Purdy is terrific on deep crossing routes, but further downfield, his passes take a long time to get there even if they were on target.
    I’m all for a QB competition next season. Lance is a running threat (not fast, not shifty, but a threat like Hurts) and he would help the running game because defenses would have to play 11-on-11 against him, and he can hit the deep shot. Let’s see if he can learn to play quarterback.

    1. Huf also had some big plays on blitzes to force punts. Give the guy credit where it’s due. Yes, he misses some, but the alternative was Tartt back there who missed THE PLAY that would have put us in the Super Bowl last season.

      In this defense I’d rather have a guy that takes chances and makes some big plays (and gives up some too) than the safety combination we had last year that wasn’t scaring anyone.

  10. Wonder why Kinlaw suited up. He had zero impact during the last two games. It seems his knee is out of order again. 49ers put Drake Johnson inactive and free a spot for Kinlaw. Not sure it is a right move

    1. I’m more worried about Bosa, or as my kids call him, “Lord Chia Pet.” No idea how that nickname came to be but they were searching for scary names, lol!

      What’s going on with Bosa, though? He hasn’t resembled anything like his dominant self these two playoff games, save for maybe forcing one holding call against T. Smith early in the game.

      On the other hand Omenihu has made some big plays to save the defense in critical moments these last two games.

      1. Regarding Bosa, he might have a strain or something like that. Not saying I’ve heard that he has, just offering a possible explanation.

      2. O-lines are double teaming and holding him nearly every play now. I counted 15 obvious holds on Bosa on Sunday that weren’t called. Teams will risk holding penalties (which the refs seem to keep their yellow flags in their pockets 95% of Bosa”s pass rushes.) That’s why he’s been quiet on sack production.

    2. Agree. Kinlaw seems to be playing on 1 leg. Against Dallas, he played 23 snaps on defense and 3 snaps on Special Teams. Recorded 0 tackles and assists. His PFF rating for the year is 43.5 which is REALLY bad. He has 3 solo tackles and 1 assist on the entire year. I feel for the guy. I do think he’s very talented but he has a bum knee. Only played 4 games last year and 6 games this year. I tried to watch him specifically in this past game and he’s just not adding anything to the defense right now. He probably needs to come out of the rotation. Maybe even be inactive for the NFCCG.

        1. Interesting that there seems to be some collective drafting philosophy about taking raw talented guys high in the draft. Solomon Thomas was a tweener who’s main attribute was his explosiveness which hadn’t translated to overwhelming production in college…it was all potential. Kinlaw was a big, fast and strong player without eye popping college productivity. He was primarily drafted for his raw physical tools. Trey Lance hardly played a full season in college. He’s another guy picked for his physical skills, good speed, rocket arm….etc.. Not all the first round picks were raw potential suspects. McGlinchey was big and strong but he was also a 4 year starter with run blocking skills that were 1st rounder material. Bosa was a slam dunk obvious choice of developed skill and productivity.

      1. The problem is that there isn’t really a viable alternative. The original post mentions Drake Jackson not suiting up. But that’s because the 49ers have other edge rushers available. But there are only two other interior linemen: Ty McGill and Kevin Givens. Both have PFF scores about a point or two higher than Kinlaw. With only a negligible difference in performance between Kinlaw, McGill and Givens; the 49ers may as well play the guy they used expensive draft capital on and who has “potential”.

  11. There was a bit of irony in the game yesterday when running back Tony Pollard broke his leg. A couple Dallas radio station hosts were tongue-in-cheek hoping for an injury to Christian McCaffrey in the run up to the game to increase their chances. Turns out the loss of Pollard meant Dallas was left with just a single game breaking threat, and I think that was a major turning point in the game.

    Next week, the defense faces a number of threats and it’s going to be tough. I think we’re capable of handling one tough wideout, let’s see how we do against both AJ Brown and Devonta Smith. I’m not sure we have enough corners to match up. Lenoir, while creating takeaways in both playoff games, still gets routinely burned on deep routes. Bosa will definitely need to up his game next week to help the secondary out.

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