The dream is still alive for the 49ers. They beat the Dallas Cowboys 23-17 in an ugly win which probably had no business being close. Two Jimmy Garoppolo overthrows provided some intrigue to a game that San Francisco deserved to have in hand.
In typical Kyle Shanahan fashion, this game opened with clinical play from the 49ers and eventually devolved late.
His offense ripped Dallas apart on the first series, going seven plays for 75 yards with a heavy dose of Deebo Samuel, a nifty, naked bootleg play action to Travis Benjamin, all capped off by Elijah Mitchell basically walking into the end zone.
The 49ers defense then smothered Dallas for an opening three-and-out, punctuated by a Nick Bosa, then Samson Ebukam sack.
Their remaining drives in the first half were far less incisive, but all but the half-ending drive — with less than 30 seconds on the clock starting at their own four-yard line — ended with points.
The second drive was en route to being another major success, and was sparked by a pinpoint Jimmy Garoppolo sideline throw to Jauan Jennings on third down. It was setback by a blown up screen for a loss of 11 yards, then a delay of game — which Kyle Shanahan said on KNBR this week, he takes great pride in avoiding.
But Garoppolo got off an under-pressure checkdown to Kyle Juszczyk, setting up Robbie Gould for a 53-yarder. For those of you thinking that’s a fairly lengthy kick for Gould, it is. Fifty-three yards is his second-longest kick in any of the last six seasons, with his 54-yarder against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs two years ago his longest in that timeframe.
After another defensive stop came perhaps the only real question mark of the first half. As the 49ers matriculated the ball deep into Dallas territory again, Kyle Shanahan made arguably his most conservative pair of decisions in the game.
On third-and-3, he opted for a carry to Deebo Samuel, which came up short. Had they gone for it on the next down, that play call might have made a bit more sense, but the 49ers kicked a field goal. The decision to rush on third down was perhaps more confounding than the field goal.
Regardless, the 49ers were only beaten by Dallas once, when Dak Prescott launched a fade to Amari Cooper, who burned K’Waun Williams badly for a touchdown.
Whatever criticism there was of the 49ers’ half would be nitpicking, and that’s generous. They scored on every real drive, and stopped Dallas from scoring on three of their four drives. The lack of a second touchdown made it a potentially nervy situation with Dallas receiving in the second half, but there was no real threat on the other side of the ball.
The same things that plagued the Cowboys in a 25-22 loss against the Cardinals two weeks ago, and frequently throughout this season, showed up again on Sunday.
Dallas could not get out of its own way. Typically the first drive of any half is the some of the best a team and their play caller has to offer. The Cowboys came out and committed two back-to-back false starts… on third down, followed by a sack.
They were bailed out by a Mark Nzeocha roughing the kicker penalty, but made no use of it, punting again.
That second half was embarked upon without the services of Nick Bosa, who sustained a concussion at the end of the first half.
But even without Bosa, Prescott found himself under near-constant pressure. Dallas’ propensity to abandon the run game resurfaced, forcing their offensive line — which looks much better on paper than it does in reality at this stage — into pass protection on an almost every-down basis.
After an 11-yard D.J. Jones sack, the Cowboys hit their floor, with Dak Prescott completely missing Cedrick Wilson, and K’Waun Williams intercepting him at the Dallas 26-yard line.
Two plays later, Deebo Samuel scored the most Deebo Samuel touchdown. He waited until it seemed like there wasn’t a hint of daylight, then identified an escape valve and trotted in untouched to put the 49ers up 23-7.
At that point, the 49ers were in a dominant situation.
But it wouldn’t be a Jimmy Garoppolo game if a game the 49ers were seemingly destined to win, and convincingly, turned into a close game for no discernible reason.
After Dallas punted again, Garoppolo and the 49ers had a chance to effectively ice the game. He had Brandon Aiyuk as wide open as a wide receiver will ever get, and overthrew him. There’s some question as to whether Aiyuk was supposed to turn upfield, but either way, the throw was well over his head.
Dallas responded with an 11-play drive to make it 23-10, still a two-touchdown game at that point.
Four plays later, Garoppolo turned an incredible escape under pressure into another overthrow and a damning interception.
Prescott quickly capitalized and turned it into a touchdown. That 16-point lead was cut to just six.
And the 49ers predictably did not respond with points, but burned some time off the clock.
It was a game of who wanted it less, and the Cowboys, with a chance to score a touchdown and win the game, proved they wanted it less, concluding their drive with Prescott being pressured and throwing up a prayer that nearly found Cedrick Wilson.
All the 49ers needed was a first down to ice the game. They were stopped on their first two carries, but were bailed out by a defensive holding call which netted them a free first down after Dallas had burnt its first timeout.
Then Trent Williams false started, seemingly to further please the penalty gods. The 49ers nearly converted the first down on a nifty reverse to Deebo Samuel, but came up inches short, and Trent Williams was called for a false start on what would have been a game-winning quarterback sneak.
Either way, it made the Cowboys burn their final timeout, giving them the ball with 35 seconds left.
Their prayers were not answered, and given the astonishing 14 penalties they committed for 89 yards, it’s fair to say they did not deserve to have them answered. It ended, as it probably deserved to, with boneheadedness from Dallas.
They ran a quarterback draw, but could not line up quick enough to get the snap off, seeing all zeros.
The 49ers will head to Green Bay next week for a matchup with the Packers.
It should be noted that Fred Warner, who left the game with what looked like a serious ankle injury, remained standing on the sideline for the remainder of the game and even had his helmet on. Nick Bosa left the game with a concussion. Both players’ statuses are uncertain.