2021 Playoffs: Cowboys’ season comes to anti-climactic end with 23-17 loss to 49ers

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After a torrid start to the 2021 season, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense fell into a funk. Injuries and offensive line shuffling led to a lack of confidence in his protection and quarterback Dak Prescott’s performance began to slide downhill. There was much concern over this in Dallas, though not much to do but keep working on things until they got better. That’s why the team didn’t rest anyone in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, hoping to get their mojo back.

It didn’t work. The same issues took the Cowboys down in their wild-card game against the San Francisco 49ers. Pre-snap penalties. Holding calls and general bad blocking happened first, an inaccurate and poor decision making Prescott followed. After a big-play, opening-drive touchdown by the 49ers put the defense on skates, they tried to buckle down however they couldn’t stop the bum rush boosted by the lack of successful drives by the offense. In the end, it was the end of the Cowboys’ season, falling 23-17 after a surreal, wild ending to a poorly-played performance.

Everything failed for the Cowboys in this contest, from coaching to player execution. Anyone looking for a microcosm to the issues found it in the fourth quarter when Dallas ran a successful fake punt, and then tried to double down. They kept the punt unit on the field, trying to trick the 49ers before running out their offense, only to get called for delay of game when the ref wouldn’t let them snap it to allow San Francisco to complete their substitution.

Dallas, trailing by 16 with 12 minutes left, kicked a 51-yard field goal to trim the score to 13, still two scores down.

The Cowboys did what they’ve done many times in the past, made a furious fourth-quarter comeback scoring 10 unanswered points and they got the ball back with a chance to go win it. However Dak Prescott’s fourth-down deep ball fell incomplete when Cedrick Wilson stumbled, giving the ball back to San Francisco.

The defense tried to come up with a stop to get one last try, but that was thrwarted when Randy Gregory was called for his third penalty of the game for defensive holding, tackling an offensive lineman behind the play.

It was the only way this game could go, Dallas setting their franchise record with 14 penalties. Only it didn’t end there. The Cowboys got a third-down stop, upon review, inches short of a clinching first-down for WR Deebo Samuel. Trying for a sneak to end the game, the referee finally called a false start on the 49ers, forcing a punt.

Prescott moved the ball down the field with three plays that got out of bounds, but with 14 seconds left Dallas tried to run a sneak. It worked, only the club couldn’t get the ball snapped to spike it for one try in the end zone.

The club never got to try their shot, after failing miserably to put themselves in a better position throughout the rest of the game.

And so Dallas moves on to the offseason, with potential coaching changes, loss of free agents and several months to digest what went wrong.