4 Cowboys most to blame after NFL Divisional Round loss vs. 49ers

4 Cowboys most to blame after NFL Divisional Round loss vs. 49ers

Updated: 8 days, 8 hours, 12 minutes, 32 seconds ago

The Dallas Cowboys’ season ends in defeat to the San Francisco 49ers for the second consecutive year. How painful is that, eh? The final score of 19-12 was enough to send the Cowboys home, wondering again how things went so wrong so fast. Here we’ll discuss the Cowboys most to blame for their NFL Divisional Round loss vs. the Cowboys.

The Cowboys entered their game against the 49ers with high hopes. This was fueled by a really uplifting Wild Card Round win and a strong performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, despite being competitive until the end, a few unlucky breaks resulted in a disappointing loss for the Cowboys. What made this more frustrating was that it was the Niners again who gave them a knockout blow.

For now, let us look at the Cowboys most to blame for their NFL Divisional Round loss vs. the Cowboys.

4. Cowboys Defense

For a minimum of three and a half quarters, the Dallas defense was actually solid. 49ers rookie QB Brock Purdy appeared to finally return to earth. Dallas applied pressure on him, which caused the run game to stall. However, the Cowboys defense wore out in the fourth quarter and allowed two touchdown drives.

Additionally, their defense missed two opportunities to intercept passes. Dallas CB Trevon Diggs missed a chance to intercept the ball. He also attempted to hit tight end George Kittle rather than go after it as Kittled bobbled it before making the grab. He then made a 30-yard run. In a contest when the offense had trouble, Dallas’ defense simply wasn’t strong enough to compensate. That might seem painful to say, but we spout facts here.

3. Impaired Run Game

The Cowboys suffered a significant loss in the first half when Tony Pollard, a key player in their running game, was carted off the field with a left ankle injury. He finished the game with 22 rushing yards on six carries and 11 receiving yards on two catches. His absence greatly impacted the team’s offense, which then struggled in the latter half of the game.

Without Pollard, the Cowboys appeared out of sorts, and their yards per play dropped from 5.8 to 5.1. That just significantly hampered their offensive rhythm for the rest of this contest. Starter Ezekiel Elliott took over, finishing with 26 yards on 10 carries. Meanwhile, rookie Malik Davis, who didn’t get his first offensive snaps until the fourth quarter, was available but not trusted enough for this game.

In all, the Cowboys ended up with a -37 differential in rushing yards against a superior 49ers offense.

2. Mike McCarthy’s Game Management

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy faced a difficult decision when kicker Brett Maher, who had recently struggled with accuracy, was sent out to kick an extra point after the Cowboys scored their first touchdown. The kick was blocked and pulled left, missing its mark.

In addition, McCarthy also made poor decisions during two fourth-down situations, one of which resulted in a fumble by the opposing team. However, from a win probability perspective, going for it would have given the Cowboys a better chance to win the game.

Furthermore, in the third quarter, with 6:09 left, the Cowboys were faced with a fourth-and-five on the 49ers’ 40-yard line. Instead of going for it, which would have given them a much higher chance of winning, McCarthy chose to punt. This overly conservative play-calling and game management just played into the hands of the 49ers.

1. QB Dak Prescott

The Cowboys’ defeat in the playoffs can largely be attributed to the performance of starting QB, Dak Prescott. Despite his success in the previous game against the Buccaneers, Prescott failed to replicate that performance against the 49ers. To illustrate, he threw two interceptions that were converted into six points by the Niners.

This has been a persistent issue for Prescott throughout the season and ultimately led to the end of the Cowboys’ season. It’s also notable that Prescott’s performance can be inconsistent. He can show flashes of brilliance in one game and poor decision-making in the next. On Sunday, the Cowboys experienced the latter version of Prescott. He just could not step up, make the big plays, and carry this offense on his shoulders.

Those aforementioned interceptions, in particular, really hurt. They happened as 49ers defenders jumped routes on passes intended for Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb. Despite Lamb’s strong performance, Prescott’s turnovers played a significant role in a really difficult game for him. He ended the game with 23 completed passes out of 37 attempts for 206 yards, one touchdown, and those two INTs. His clean performance in the previous win was wasted in this game. The second pick was the most damaging. It occurred when the Cowboys were driving in for a potential touchdown that could have broken the 6-6 tie with under two minutes remaining in the first half.