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Grading 49ers' offense, defense in playoff win over Cowboys originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Toward the end, it was like a heavyweight fight.
With wobbly legs and punches that did not hit the mark, both teams staggered. Both teams could have easily hit the deck and not gotten up.
The 49ers remained upright long enough to hold on for a 23-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs.
“The guys were excited,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said in the moments that followed. “I’m still trying to figure out where I’m at. It was pretty emotional out there.”
The 49ers’ season did not come to an end.
Here is the 49ers’ report card from a dramatic playoff victory:
Thirty is the magic number.
If the 49ers can run the ball at least 30 times, it usually bodes well for the team. On Sunday, that number was 38. The 49ers gained 169 yards on the ground with a 4.4-yard average.
Rookie Elijah Mitchell got the tough yards, as he carried 27 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Deebo Samuel came through with 72 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushing attempts. His 26-yard scoring run in the third quarter gave the 49ers a 23-7 lead.
The 49ers could have put the game away with a quarterback sneak late in the fourth quarter, but Jimmy Garoppolo got a little eager and the ball was snapped before Trent Williams, who shifted to the right side, could get set.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played efficiently in the first half, as the 49ers built a nine-point lead with scores on each of their four full possessions.
The offense sputtered in the second half, and Garoppolo was not sharp. He overthrew a wide-open Brandon Aiyuk in the third quarter on a third-down play that could have gone a long way toward sealing the victory. He missed a layup. That’s how he described it.
Later, Garoppolo let the Cowboys back into the game when he sailed a pass for Trent Sherfield that was intercepted. The Cowboys turned that turnover into a touchdown.
Garoppolo completed 16 of 25 passes for 172 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. Aiyuk led the team with five catches for 66 yards. Jauan Jennings had three receptions, and they were all on successful third-down plays.
The 49ers’ offensive line and the team’s pass protection as a whole did not allow a sack. It was the first time the 49ers did not allow a sack in a postseason game since Jan. 5, 2003, against the New York Giants in a wild-card game.
Other than the Cowboys’ first touchdown drive, which came midway through the second quarter, the 49ers’ front seven completely shut down Dallas’ running game. That has been a constant for the 49ers’ defense over the second half of the season.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott managed just 31 yards on 12 rushing attempts. Dallas rushed for just 77 yards on 21 attempts.
The Cowboys’ best running play was also their worst. Quarterback Dak Prescott broke off a 17-yard run late in the game, but did not allow the team enough time to get the ball snapped before time expired.
Prescott completed 23 of 43 pass attempts for 254 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Prescott’s passer rating was just 69.3, and that does not take into account five sacks for minus-40 yards.
Nickel back K’Waun Williams, who surrendered the touchdown in the first half, made a huge interception in the third quarter.
The 49ers’ best defensive player, Nick Bosa, sustained a concussion in the first half and was sidelined for most of the game. Before he was sidelined, he shared a half-sack with Samson Ebukam.
The 49ers picked up the slack with their deep D-line rotation. Charles Omenihu stepped up with 1.5 sacks. Arik Armstead and D.J. Jones also added sacks. Kevin Givens also shared a sack.
The 49ers’ defense on the outside continues to get better with Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas as the cornerbacks.
Kicker Robbie Gould saved this unit from a disastrous grade. The reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week might have topped himself — although he wasn’t called upon to punt in this game.
Gould improved to a perfect 18-for-18 in postseason field-goal attempts with a 3-for-3 day. In the process, he made the second- and third-longest field goals in 49ers franchise history with kicks of 53 and 52 yards. (It should be noted that Gould also has the longest field goal in franchise history, 54 yards against Green Bay in the 2019 NFC Championship Game.)
Other areas of the 49ers’ special teams were not so great. Mark Nzeocha committed a roughing-the-punter penalty that extended a Cowboys drive. Josh Norman surrendered a completion on a fake punt.
And Mitch Wishnowsky sent his final punt into the end zone when if he had landed it in the field of play, it would have run some valuable time off the clock.
Hats off to defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who made all the right calls on Sunday to keep the Cowboys’ high-powered offense in check. Dallas averaged just 4.4 yards per offensive play, and that is 1.6 yards fewer than their average during the regular season.
Coach Kyle Shanahan’s best play call was when he essentially let Samuel make the call himself. After Williams’ interception, Samuel told Shanahan he wanted the ball. Shanahan dialed up a run play around the right side, and Samuel delivered with a 26-yard touchdown run.
The 49ers did not exactly show a lot of poise down the stretch, but they did enough to survive and advance.
The 49ers made too many mistakes in the second half. But the Dallas Cowboys, over the course of the game, made even more miscues.
The 49ers came to Dallas as the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs. They were three-point underdogs. For most of the game, they looked like the better team.
The Cowboys have a lot of star power, for sure. The 49ers did a good job of not allowing the Cowboys’ best players to take over and control the game.
All that matters is that the 49ers won, and advance to face the top-seeded Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional round.