Minus 7. -7. That’s the final scoring margin in Dallas’ final game of the 2022 season. A year where resilience was the well-played theme of their existence, the Cowboys never lost back-to-back games. That was the first time since 1994 they’d been able to accomplish such a feat, but it matters not in the one-and-done world of playoff football.
The seven-point defeat, 19-12, to the San Francisco 49ers is the final chapter of this book. The difference between the two teams was never a gulf, but Dallas was unable to limit their mistakes and in this game, they tied directly to the scoring.
The playoffs are not forgiving. They magnify mistakes because the level of competition at this stage means failures will be capitalized on. Here’s a look at how the myriad of Cowboys mistakes lead to their undoing.
Prescott’s first-quarter interception, -3 points
The battle was still early but this two-way error put Dallas in an early deficit. The Cowboys were lucky to start the drive. Kyle Shanahan was extremely timid and had the 49ers punt away their second possession despite making it inside Dallas’ 40-yard line. A touchback started the Cowboys at their own 20, but they made no headway and faced 3rd-and-9.
Prescott tried to find Michael Gallup on the sideline, but both the QB and the WR made hideously bad plays. Gallup ran a horrible comeback route and made absolutely no effort to drive back for the ball like he was supposed to. Prescott double-pumped before releasing the ball late, allowing 49ers DB Deommodore Lenoir to get a great break on the pass and intercept it.
Dallas’ defense held, but giving the ball to San Francisco at the Cowboys’ 21 meant an easy three points to start the scoring.
Brett Maher’s blocked extra point, -1
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The 49ers, along with the rest of the world, were pretty shocked Dallas was trotting Maher back out after missing four of five extra points in the wild-card round win. They tried to get in his head during warmups and he appeared to still be extremely shaky on his first attempt.
Dallas scored on their first possession after the turnover, driving 74 yards on an almost eight-minute drive, but once again they could not maximize all of the points. Maher’s attempt was blocked, but it looked like a low, off-trajectory bad kick to begin with that was destined to miss anyways.
Prescott’s second interception, -10
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At this point, the Cowboys’ offense is humming against the best defense in the league. After their 74-yard clock-crunching drive, Dallas gave up a tying field goal then went back to work.
The missed Maher extra point had Dallas go for it on 4th-and-4 from the SF 35 and the game unraveled from there. Prescott ran for the first down, but RB Tony Pollard was injured on the next play, breaking his leg when he was tackled by Jimmie Ward. After a long delay to get him off the field, Dallas had 2nd-and-2 from the 49ers’ 18-yard line.
This is a drive that looked like a touchdown was imminent, and at worst was a field-goal attempt. But Prescott made an unforgivable mistake, trying to force a pass to a double-covered Lamb when there were other open options.
The 49ers took that possession and kicked another field goal as the clock expired on the subsequent drive, one they wouldn’t have had time for if Dallas had kept the ball.
Kelvin Joseph forced fumble, +3
If we’re keeping track of mistakes that affect the score it’s only right to include one that worked in Dallas’ favor. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Dallas was stopped and forced to punt. Joseph made a tremendous play, forcing a fumble on the return that Dallas recovered. The 49ers defense held and forced a Cowboys field goal that tied the game at 9.
Defense falters with penalties, missed opportunities, -7
The teams traded punts from just across midfield, the refusal to press the issue making the careful nature of each team’s risk threshold obvious.
The 49ers got their offense going though on a play that should’ve been an incompletion at worst. 49ers QB Brock Purdy overshot George Kittle who was somehow matched by a defensive tackle. Kittle tipped the ball in the air. Instead of attacking it, CB Trevon Diggs went for the big hit on Kittle but whiffed. A hit would have easily jarred the ball loose. Instead a 30-yard reception put the ball in Dallas’ territory.
The mistakes weren’t over.
On 2nd-and-8 from the 20, Anthony Barr tipped the Purdy pass, right to Diggs. The ball fell through his arms incomplete.
Dallas’ defensive front still got them off the field, almost. DeMarcus Lawrence should’ve had his second sack of the game on 3rd-and-8, but safety Donovan Wilson tackled Kittle downfield and was called for the hold.
Two plays later, Christian McCaffrey scored the 49ers lone touchdown of the game.
Kavontae Turpin makes wrong decision, -4
On the ensuring kickoff, Dallas had a chance to answer the score in the best way. John Fassel’s return blocking was great on Sunday and on this play they created a ridiculous opportunity that ended up nowhere.
Turpin broke free, and had a blocker in front of him. He could’ve kept to the outside right, or cut back to the left. Either decision gives Dallas a touchdown and the game-changing momentum. Instead, he ran directly into the three men at midfield.
Dallas settled for a field goal on the drive.
There were other mistakes made throughout the game, including Dalton Schultz making two horrendous sideline decisions on the final drive, but these plays are the story of the game.
Dallas had a chance to play in the NFC Championship but couldn’t get out of their own way when they needed to. It was a totally different script than the mistakes they made in losing the 49ers in last year’s wild-card round, but the results were the same.
Self-inflicted gunshot wounds send Dallas back to the offseason.
Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire