Both offenses had to punt on their first drive in a game expected to be higher-scoring. Brock Purdy found George Kittle for a gain of 31 on the second drive, but the offense couldn’t convert after Purdy was under pressure on third and long.
Both teams struggled to run the ball in the first quarter. San Francisco averaged 2.2 yards per carry, while the Cowboys could only muster 1.3 yards. Both defensive lines are controlling the line of scrimmage.
Dak Prescott had trouble with some of the coverages the 49ers were playing in the first quarter. Fred Warner was all over the place, and Deommodore Lenoir took advantage of a poor decision by Prescott, which gave the Niners a short field.
Unfortunately, San Francisco had to settle for three points after Purdy didn’t have time on third down. First, there was a questionable-designed quarterback run. Dallas has too much speed for that play to work, and they quickly ate up the space on the play.
After one quarter, it was 3-0.
The Cowboys gained 18 yards on 3rd & 2 to put themselves in 49ers' field position for the first time early in the second quarter. Dallas faced another 3rd & 7, and this time picked up six yards, making it a short 4th & 1.
CeeDee Lamb was involved early and often, and he converted the fourth down to keep the drive alive for the Cowboys. Lamb had four targets and one rush on the Cowboys' first three drives. A Dalton Schultz touchdown gave Dallas a 6-3 lead after the extra point was blocked.
San Francisco's fourth drive needed points. A couple of first downs would have been ideal for giving the defense a breather, but it was their turn to pick up the slack. Christian McCaffrey caught a difficult pass on 3rd & 7 to provide the offense with a first down.
Jauan Jennings was thrown out of bounds, and the defender was flagged for a late hit, but Aaron Banks had a holding call on the following play to make it 1st & 20. Deebo Samuel picked up a big chunk of the yardage on second down, but a Cowboys blitz on 3rd & 2 stalled the drive.
Instead of going for it on fourth and short, Shanahan relied on Robbie Gould to make a 47-yarder, and he did not disappoint. Gould’s kick tied the game at six.
Dallas had over three minutes to score and would get the ball back before the half. So it was imperative the 49ers' defense stopped the Cowboys so that they couldn’t score twice.
For the second game in a row, the defense committed a boneheaded penalty at the end of the half. Dre Greenlaw had an unnecessary roughness to give the Cowboys excellent field position.
Greenlaw tackled Tony Pollard short of the marker on third down after showing off his impressive speed. Mike McCarthy elected to go for it on 4th & 4 from the 35-yard line with two minutes to play. Prescott scrambled for nine yards to pick up the first down.
A Dallas score before the half would put all kinds of pressure on the 49ers. But, Dak couldn’t help himself. The 49ers doubled Lamb in the slot. Prescott did not see Jimmie Ward, who appeared to have the interception, but Fred Warner came up with the interception himself for the biggest stop of the game.
The 49ers got the ball with 1:15 to play, but Kyle Shanahan ran the ball twice, and just like that, 30 seconds were remaining. A 21-yard completion to Jauan Jennings saved the day, and Gould nailed a 50-yard kick to give the 49ers a 9-6 halftime lead.
Dallas was forced to play the second half without Tony Pollard. They’d receive the ball to start the second half but couldn’t do anything with it. That is until Ray-Ray McCloud coughed up a punt return.
The Cowboys took over at the 21-yard line. The defense had no choice but to hold, and they came through again. Dallas had to settle for a field goal, and Brett Maher finally hit a kick to tie the score at nine.
The offense couldn’t get things going on the next drive. Unfortunately, the same was not true for Dallas, as CeeDee Lamb beat Deommodore Lenoir for 46 yards. That put the ball near midfield, but San Francisco held once again.
The 49ers were backed up inside of the 20-yard line. Purdy found Kittle for the best catch of the playoffs. Kittle extended one hand, tipped it to himself, and reeled in a 31-yarder. From there, McCaffrey got the ground game going and ended up scoring from two yards out to give the 49ers a 16-9 lead.
The Cowboys didn’t go away, thanks to a 44-yard kick return. After a third down conversion and a 17-yard reception by Lamb, Dallas had the ball inside the 30-yard line. However, the defense held once again as they got off the field on 3rd & 8. Brett Maher’s kick was good to trim the lead to 16-12.
Kittle picked up 17 on the first play. And after an Elijah Mitchell rush, San Francisco found themselves in Cowboys territory. A touchdown would put the game out of reach at this point in the fourth quarter.
McCaffrey caught a first down on 3rd & 2. Mitchell, with fresh legs, continued to churn out yardage. Purdy’s scramble on third down made it a chip shot field goal for Gould, and that gave San Francisco a 19-12 lead with just over three minutes to play.
As they’ve done all season, the defense got off the field. Greenlaw nearly had a pick-six, but the pressure was enough to force Prescott into an errant throw.
Kittle caught a 16-yard pass to move the chains. Mitchell ran for 13 yards but stayed in bounds, giving Dallas a little bit of life. After a punt, the Cowboys needed to march 94 yards with no timeouts to win the game.
Arik Armstead had Prescott dead to rights for a potential game-ending sack and safety but had a brain fart. It came down to one play, and the 49ers, once again, stopped the Cowboys.
The game finished with a 19-12 score. DeMeco Ryans was incredible. The offense did just enough, and the 49ers are headed to the NFC Championship.