49ers Beat Cowboys in Wild-Card Thriller

Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports

The San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys 23-17 in a game that put the wild in wild-card weekend. With big plays on offense and defense for both teams, plus a truly bizarre ending, this is a worthy addition to the 49ers-Cowboys storied postseason history.

The Niners provided a strong showing on offense, with solid performances from the wide receivers, running game, and offensive line especially. All-pro receiver Deebo Samuel shined yet again, providing big plays when needed, finishing the day with 72 rushing yards, 38 receiving yards, and a score on the ground. Running back Elijah Mitchell added to the rushing attack, picking up 96 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries.

On defense, the 49ers overcame injuries to two of their stars in Nick Bosa and Fred Warner to put up a stellar all-around performance. They provided consistent pressure on Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, and strong secondary play stifled Dallas’s star-studded passing game. The Niners D-line sacked Prescott five times, intercepted him once, and limited Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb to one catch.

The 49ers look ahead to a divisional matchup on the road against the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, the Cowboys, after another year of big expectations, have seen the last of their season.

49ers Start Strong

The 49ers proved they deserved to be in the postseason after cruising to a 13-0 lead in the first half. A key to the 49ers success against the Cowboys was running the ball successfully, and that’s exactly what they did. Running back Elijah Mitchell’s first quarter score to put the Niners up 7-0 sent a message that San Francisco was committed to the rush.

Defensively, the 49ers forced the Cowboys to punt on their first two drives before giving up a touchdown in the 2nd quarter. Throughout the first half, the Niners looked dominant, and the game wasn’t close… until it was.

A Momentum Shift

With the score at 23-10, the 49ers looked like they would steamroll the Cowboys. But a 4th-quarter interception by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to corner Anthony Brown gave life to Dallas, allowing them to cut the lead to 23-14, and eventually 23-17.

The Jimmy G interception marked a turning point in the game where the Cowboys began moving the ball better on offense while stopping the Niners on defense. It also got the home crowd roaring in Dallas, which clearly affected Garoppolo and the 49ers offense for the rest of the game.

Unfortunately, Jimmy Garoppolo has a tendency to make momentum-changing mistakes like these. The team overcame it this time, but not every opponent the 49ers meet in the playoffs will be so forgiving.

A Wild Finish

The crazy end to this game began on the 49ers’ last drive. With less than a minute left and no more timeouts for Dallas, a first down would seal the win for San Francisco. On a 3rd down play, Deebo ran for 10 yards, which was spotted as a first down. 49ers players were celebrating on the sideline.

The refs re-measured not once — but twice — to decide Deebo’s run was not enough for the 1st down. Now 4th and 1, the 49ers ran a QB sneak that was enough for the game-sealing first down, but a Trent Williams penalty called it back yet again. With this, the 49ers were forced to punt with 39 seconds remaining, giving the Cowboys a chance for a game-winning touchdown after all.

Dallas moved the ball well, and it looked like a hail-mary attempt to the end zone was incoming. After a Dak Prescott run up the middle for 17 yards deep in San Francisco territory, the Cowboys had to spike the ball to stop the clock from running down. But then they just… didn’t. The offense didn’t get into formation in time, and the clock hit zero. Niners win.

What a way to end a game.

These Niners Don’t Quit

If there’s one thing the Niners had to do to earn the win Sunday, it was overcome adversity. Fighting through injuries and self-inflicted mistakes is what this team has been doing all season, and this game was truly a microcosm of the year.

In the 3rd quarter, defensive star and team captain Nick Bosa left the game with a head injury. Later on, linebacker Fred Warner went out with an ankle injury. With another defensive captain sidelined, the 49ers still held on for the win.

Through these injuries, the 49ers continued to embody the “next man up” mentality they’ve represented all year. Whether it was the season-ending losses to cornerback Jason Verrett and offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, or countless weekly injuries to other players, the 2021 Niners always found ways to fill the holes with talented backups. Today versus the Cowboys was no different.

They’ve also continued to overcome mistakes from Jimmy Garoppolo. Sure, Garoppolo puts the team on his back in some cases, making big plays in clutch moments. But for the most part, the 49ers are digging themselves out of holes created by Garoppolo’s interceptions, missed throws, and bad decisions. Luckily for the Niners, they’ve got guys like Deebo Samuel that continue to make it possible.

After this game, it has to be said: regardless of how far the 49ers get in the postseason, the players have to be commended for the adversity they’ve pushed through this year.

Looking Ahead

The 49ers have reached the divisional round of the playoffs. That means they’ll be one of 8 remaining teams still competing for a Super Bowl title. Not bad for a Niners squad that was 3-5 at one point this year.

Next week, they’ll head to Lambeau Field in frigid Wisconsin to take on the top-seeded Green Bay Packers. Win there and they’ll play in the NFC Championship against either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, or Arizona Cardinals.

As long as the 49ers have Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, and the rest of their star-studded cast of players, there’s not a team they have to fear.

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