It may not have been pretty, but the San Francisco 49ers are moving on in the NFC playoffs after defeating Dallas 23-17 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
San Francisco dominated the first three quarters of the game, leading 23-7 at the start of the final period.
A fake punt by Dallas and a Jimmy Garoppolo interception allowed the Cowboys to close to within six.
Playing without Nick Bosa who suffered a concussion in the second quarter and Fred Warner who went down with an ankle injury, San Francisco was able to come up with two big defensive stops to secure the win.
San Francisco will travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers next week.
Here are the answers to the five questions we asked on Saturday:
- Can the 49ers hold on to the football? No
Facing a Cowboys team that had forced the most turnovers in the NFL this season, San Francisco wasn’t able to play a clean game offensively. The 49ers lone turnover came when Jimmy Garoppolo was intercepted by Anthony Brown with just under 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter.
Fortunately for the 49ers, Dak Prescott was in a giving mood as well.
Late in the third quarter, K’Waun Williams picked off a Prescott pass intended for Cedric Wilson.
The interceptions by Garoppolo and Prescott would lead to touchdowns and offset each other.
- Will Jimmy Garoppolo step up in his second trip to the playoffs? Yes and No
It was a tale of two halves for Jimmy Garoppolo who finished the game 16-of-25 for 172 yards and one interception.
Garoppolo was on the money throughout much of the first half, hitting several key throws to move the sticks, leading the San Francisco offense to scores on the first four possessions of the game to build a 16-7 first half lead.
The second half was a different story as Garoppolo made several mistakes that nearly cost San Francisco the game.
The first mistake from Garoppolo came with under two minutes remaining in the third quarter and San Francisco facing third and 10. Garoppolo had Brandon Aiyuk open on a deep post corner route for a big gain, but his throw would sail incomplete over Aiyuk’s head. Dallas would get a field goal to pull within 13 on the ensuing drive.
Garoppolo’s second mistake would come on the next possession. With the ball out to the 44 yard line, Garoppolo would roll to his right and have Trent Sherfield open. The ball would sail high, and Cowboys defensive back Anthony Brown would come up with the interception to set Dallas up deep in San Francisco territory. The ensuing drive would end with the Cowboys getting into the endzone to pull to within six.
Facing fourth and inches with only 40 seconds left to play, Garoppolo hit the late game trifecta by rushing the snap and not allowing Trent Williams to get set after motioning from left to right on a quarterback sneak. Instead of wrapping the game up, San Francisco would be forced to give the ball back to Dallas one last time.
This last mistake never should have occurred. With the game in the balance, Kyle Shanahan was a little too cute by calling for Williams to motion. San Francisco has been very good at running quarterback sneaks all season, there was no need for that given the situation and it almost cost them.
- Can San Francisco take advantage of the Cowboys run defense? Yes
As has been the case throughout the second half of the season, San Francisco was able to find success with its running game.
Led by Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel, the 49ers offense ran the ball for 169 yards on 38 attempts against Dallas.
Mitchell has been a workhorse for San Francisco throughout his rookie season. Against Dallas, Mitchell would carry the ball 27 times for 96 yards and the first touchdown of the game. This marked the sixth straight game with 21 or more carries for Mitchell.
Deebo Samuel wasn’t about to let the rookie show him up. Earlier this week Samuel called himself a “wide-back”, a wide receiver who plays running back. Against Dallas the 49ers wide-back carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards, including a 26-yard burst to put the 49ers ahead 23-7 in the third quarter.
San Francisco is now 7-0 when Samuel gets at least six carries in a game.
- Will San Francisco be able to contain the Cowboys passing game? Yes
The 49ers pass defense has been extremely good over the course of the second half of the season. They held the Los Angeles Rams under 300 yards in both meetings, it took overtime for Cincinnati to eclipse that mark, and on Sunday they held Dak Prescott and the top scoring offense in the league to only 230 yards passing.
It starts up front for San Francisco. The 49ers pass rush, led by Arik Armstead and Charles Omenihu was able to hit Prescott 14 times and sack the Cowboys quarterback five times.
With Nick Bosa out due to a concussion, Omenihu, acquired in a trade with the Houston Texans before the trade deadline, stepped in to record 1.5 sack and three hits of Prescott. No matter what happens the rest of the playoffs, Omenihu’s performance today made that trade worth it.
While the pass rush was busy getting after Prescott, K’Waun Williams made what looked like a game deciding play when he intercepted a Prescott pass at the Cowboys 26 yard line.
49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans deserves some recognition here as well.
Playing without Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, Ryans called for an all-out blitz late in the fourth quarter with Dallas facing fourth and 11. Although the pressure didn’t get to Prescott, it did force him to just throw up a prayer that would fall incomplete and for the time being look like it would seal the game for San Francisco.
Ryans showed terrific awareness in the waning moments of the game. Recognizing the only way Dallas could stop the clock was by throwing passes towards the sideline, Ryans instructed his linebackers and secondary to line up along the boundary, leaving the center of the field wide open.
Prescott would take advantage of this alignment to sprint down the middle of the field for a gain of 17 yards. With the clock running, the Cowboys were unable to get the ball spiked in time to stop the clock for one last play into the endzone.
- Can the 49ers defense control the line of scrimmage? Yes
San Francisco came into the game having held opposing offenses under 100 yards rushing in nine consecutive games. Against Dallas the 49ers extended that streak to 10, holding the Cowboys to only 77 yards on 21 carries.
Dre Greenlaw set the tone on the second play of the game, dropping Ezekiel Elliott for a loss of three. The linebacker group for San Francisco had a terrific game as Greenlaw, Azeez Al-Shaair and Fred Warner would each record five tackles.
49ers 27 Cowboys 24