SANTA CLARA, CA – The 49ers advanced to their second straight NFC title game with a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, thanks to a go-ahead 2-yard run by Christian McCaffrey in the fourth quarter and a strong defence.
The 49ers (15-4) wore down the Cowboys (13-6) with back-to-back long scoring drives in the second half to win their 12th straight game. After losing in the NFC title game to the Rams a year ago, San Francisco has advanced to face the Eagles in the NFC championship game next Sunday in Philadelphia.
“Man, we’re just happy we won,” said rookie 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. “Everyone pitched in. It’s playoff football, and it’s never easy, but we’ll get through it.”
The Cowboys lost in the divisional round for the seventh time in a row and have failed to reach the NFC title game since winning their fifth Super Bowl title following the 1995 season.
Dak Prescott threw two interceptions, and Brett Maher’s fifth extra point attempt of the postseason was blocked. He went on to make two field goals.
When the Cowboys took over at their own 18 with 2:59 left in the game, they trailed 19-12 after Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal of the game capped a nearly eight-minute drive.
However, Prescott threw two consecutive incompletions and was sacked on third down. With all three timeouts remaining, Coach Mike McCarthy chose to punt on fourth-and-10.
Purdy began the next drive with a 16-yard pass to George Kittle, and San Francisco didn’t give the ball back to Dallas until 45 seconds remained. The Cowboys took over at their 6 and never looked back.
Purdy, the final pick in the draught last April, has gone 7-0 as a starter since taking over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo early in Week 13. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 215 yards and no interceptions against the Cowboys, joining Joe Flacco (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009) as the only rookie quarterbacks to win two playoff starts.
“Wow. Brock Purdy leading us to the NFC title game? He’s only won seven in a row now, I believe. “Well done, Brock,” Kittle said. “He’s playing at a high level, getting our best players the football, he’s awesome and confident in the huddle. He’s just doing a fantastic job.”
McCaffrey’s 2-yard run to cap a 91-yard drive gave the 49ers the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The drive featured a juggling 30-yard catch by Kittle and two defensive holds against Dallas, including one near the goal line on Donovan Wilson that negated a third-down sack.
“I was thinking, you know, how can I make this as dramatic as possible?” Kittle described his spectacular catch. “Just a quick shout-out to Brock: I wasn’t even in progression and he still found me, so that’s all that matters. So I just want to thank him for giving me a chance to catch the ball.”
Maher’s second field goal of the game came from 43 yards out, cutting San Francisco’s lead to 16-12.
The top two scoring teams in the NFL over the previous 13 weeks struggled to get going as defences led by All-Pros Nick Bosa of San Francisco and Micah Parsons of Dallas controlled the play.
The Niners intercepted Prescott twice in the first half, converting both into field goals by Gould, and led 9-6 at the half.
The Cowboys scored the only touchdown of the first half, with Prescott connecting for the third time this postseason with tight end Dalton Schultz. However, Samson Ebukam stopped Maher’s low extra-point attempt.
After Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a punt return at the San Francisco 21, Maher made a 25-yard field goal to tie the game at 9 early in the third quarter.
JUST FOR FUN
When Maher missed the early extra point, the Cowboys’ decision to stick with him after his four missed extra points last week appeared questionable. Maher’s five missed PATs are the second-most in the NFL playoffs. Roy Gerela missed six tries in 43 attempts for Houston and Pittsburgh in the 1970s.
When Maher was warming up before the game, there was a scuffle. Trent Williams and other 49ers players attempted to obstruct his attempts from the San Francisco side of the field, resulting in a brief argument.
Cowboys Injuries: RB Tony Pollard was forced to leave the game late in the first half after injuring his left ankle while being tackled after a reception. DT Calvin Watkins (calf) left the game in the first half and did not return.
49ers: DE Charles Omenihu (oblique) left the game briefly in the first half but returned.