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Another season will go by without the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl.
Another legion of Cowboys will have grown into adulthood having never known the league’s richest and most popular franchise, with five Super Bowl titles on the ledger, to be winners.
The gap will now grow to 27 years after Sunday’s 23-17 setback to San Francisco 49ers in the NFC wild card game at AT&T Stadium.
And it’s seemingly further away than ever.
The Cowboys were healthy. They had a veteran coach and proven winner in Mike McCarthy, a franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott and two coordinators who are being courted by multi teams for head coaching jobs.
And despite a slow start and a slew of penalties it was all there for the taking. After being down 23-7 in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had rallied to make the score 23-17 and Prescott, the $40 million quarterback, had the ball in his hands with 2:42 left to go in the game.
But on fourth down and 11, 47 yards from the end zone, Prescott threw an incomplete pass to Cedrick Wilson. There would be no “Hail Mary” or a replay of “The Catch.”
Just more Cowboys heartache and now another off season of uncertainty.
They only have themselves to blame for the slow start, miscues and penalties. The most penalized team in the NFL during the regular season stayed true to form in the playoffs with 14 penalties for 89 yards in the game.
And an offense that led the league in scoring and set a team record for points notched just 17 in the most important game of the season.
Prescott, who set a franchise record with 37 touchdown passes in the regular season, passed for 254 yards with one touchdown passing, one running and an interception that the 49ers turned into the game-deciding points.
The Cowboys won the NFC East title with a 12-5 mark but came into the postseason with just two wins over playoff teams. Their inability to beat good teams proved to be their undoing again.
The Cowboys didn’t get off to an ideal start and they found themselves fighting uphill throughout the game.
The 49ers took the opening kickoff and marched 75 yards on seven plays as they gashed the Cowboys defense on the run and through air. Running back Elijah Mitchell walked in for the first score from four yards out.
And after a quick three-and-out by the Cowboys offense, the defense was back on the field. Although the 49ers didn’t score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, a 53-yard field goal by Robbie Gould put them up 10-0. San Francisco then took a 13-0 lead on a 40-yard field goal at the 9:40 mark of the second quarter. The 49ers continued to dominate with an 11 to 1 advantage in first downs and 149 to 7 in yardage.
The Cowboys finally got something going on their third possession of the game. Two runs by Ezekiel Elliott for 10 yards followed by an 8-yard run from Tony Pollard and a lateral to CeeDee Lamb for 5 yards.
The Cowboys went to the tempo offense, sparking a 67-yard scoring drive that was culminated by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Prescott to receiver Amari Cooper.
However, they trailed 16-7 at halftime thanks to a 52-yard field goal from Gould and a holding penalty on La’el Collins that took the Cowboys out of scoring range late in the final two minutes.
The Cowboys, the league’s most penalized team, were flagged three times in the first half for holding and twice for offsides.
It would get no better to start the second half as the Cowboys opened the third quarter with two false starts on 3rd down. A drive-extending roughing the punter penalty on the 49ers was short lived.
The bottom seemingly fell out the next time Cowboys touched the ball.
An illegal block penalty on receiver Cedrick Wilson was followed by a 13-yard sack. Cornerback K’Waun Williams intercepted Prescott on the next play and then Deebo Samuel romped 26 yards to the end zone.
Down 23-7 and left for dead with the home crowd booing, the Cowboys called a fake punt on fourth-and-5 at the 48 with 13:55 left in the fourth quarter. Instead of kicking, punter Bryan Anger hit a wide open C.J. Goodwin for a first down.
The Cowboys left the punt team on the field with the intent of inducing a timeout from the 49ers. The 49ers didn’t budge and the Cowboys had run the offense on the field and was subsequently called for a delay of game.
The Cowboys had to settle for a 51-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein, which narrowed the score to 23-10 with 11:53 to go in the game.
But they had new life when Anthony Brown picked off Jimmy Garappolo in the next possession and returned it 23 yards, giving the Cowboys a first down at the 28.
Prescott turned it into a 5-yard touchdown run to make the score 23-17 with eight minutes remaining. The Cowboys had two possession after that, but could punch the ball in for the go-ahead score.
On the final drive of the game, the Cowboys started at their 20 with 32 seconds remaining. Prescott found receivers for three out-of-bounds plays that picked up a total of 39 yards. Then with 14 seconds left to play, and no timeouts, Prescott darted down the center of the field. He gained 17 yards and got down to the San Francisco 24, but there was not enough time for the officials to set the ball for the next play and time expired.