ARLINGTON, Texas —“The game is over,” the officials said after a tumultuous last few minutes, and thus concluded the Cowboys’ season.
Quarterback Dak Prescott had scrambled with 14 seconds to play. The Cowboys then failed to spike before the clock expired.
The San Francisco 49ers won 23-17, advancing to an NFC division game in Green Bay after a wild-card victory in which the Niners never trailed.
The Cowboys, toward game’s end, were often close. Re-measures of fourth down attempts and timeouts stretched into the evening before ultimately the chances were no more.
Take the Cowboys’ penultimate drive, when Dallas faced fourth-and 11. Prescott worked to maneuver around a closing pocket, heaving a prayer as he toppled backward with 1:49 to play. 25 yards downfield, his intended receiver Cedrick Wilson stumbled and fell, too.
San Francisco ball. San Francisco, shortly after, win.
It was fitting: The Cowboys never gained sure footing against the 49ers. San Francisco played a more physical, more elusive and more disciplined game than a Cowboys team repeatedly hampered by 14 total penalties for 89 yards. The 12-5 Cowboys’ postseason woes continue, Dallas three years removed from its last playoff win and 26 years removed from their last NFC Championship appearance.
For a few minutes, the Cowboys mounted a rally.
Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown intercepted a high pass from 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with 9:48 to play in the fourth quarter, and Prescott barreled into the end zone for a touchdown on the resulting series. San Francisco’s lead now shrunk to 6 points. For the first time in 40+ minutes, Dallas was within a possession.
They clung and clung but couldn’t convert.
No matter that the 49ers lost key defenders Nick Bosa (concussion) and Fred Warner (ankle). San Francisco’s dominant first half was defendable. They nearly doubled the Cowboys’ first-half time of possession, again fitting for a game in which time ran out on Dallas.
The Cowboys could not slow versatile receiver-running back Deebo Samuel, who ultimately caught all three of his targets for 38 yards in addition to 72 punishing rushing yards on 10 carries. Samuel burned the Cowboys by air and by ground, his 25-yard touchdown in a single play after a Prescott interception emblematic of the fits he gave this Dallas defense. It was then that Samuel took a carry around the right end before zigzagging his way untouched through all three levels of Cowboy defense. Defensive angles weren’t sufficient. Offensive manpower was too much.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo finished the game 16-of-25 for 172 yards and an interception. Prescott completed 23-of-43 attempts for 254 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Mike McCarthy, whom the Cowboys most admired for his playoff resume, lost his first playoff appearance in two seasons with Dallas.