Rejoice, 49ers fans. Once again, your beloved team has done the honors of sending their hated rivals into an early offseason. For the second time in as many seasons, the 49ers got the best of the Dallas Cowboys in what is blossoming into the next chapter of a long and storied rivalry.
This was a throwback game in an era that sorely needed one, with defenses leading the way and the 49ers finding a way to gut out a tough win and conquer their longtime nemesis. Here are my five takeaways from the game.
This one was a slugfest for the ages
If you’re a fan of offensive explosions, this was not the game for you. Instead, in an era of finesse, this matchup was a throwback to the days of old, with two heavyweights exchanging blows in one of the more physical matchups you will see all season.
Both teams had to fight for every inch of grass on that Levi’s Stadium turf, with the Cowboys' defense showing a valiant effort against a dynamic 49ers rushing attack that had vaporized the Seahawks just one week prior.
For the first half of this game, it was the epitome of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. Both teams went into halftime with fewer than ten points and under 150 total net yards of offense.
Ultimately the 49ers found a way to win this epic battle of attrition, breaking through a stout Dallas defense as the second half progressed by piecing together a running game that had long eluded them in this game.
The 49ers took the Cowboys' best punch in this one, countered, and found a way to separate themselves down the stretch to come away with this victory. Even though they all count the same, some wins are just sweeter than others, and it’s hard to top besting your oldest rival in a game where you had to fight for every inch of grass.
Fred Warner is the best linebacker in football by a wide margin
Enjoy every moment you can watching Warner play football. It might be a long time before we see someone play the linebacker position the way that the 49ers All-Pro does. Warner was an absolute force in this game.
Warner led all 49ers defenders with nine total tackles in this game, with seven of them being solo tackles as well as a tackle for loss to boot. While Warner was very stout against the run, he really left his mark in this game with the work he did in coverage, an area of his game that consistently reminds him of why Warner is the gold standard at the position.
Warner was targeted five times in this game, allowing just two receptions for 15 yards. Warner also recorded a key interception at the end of the second half that stalled a Cowboys drive deep in 49ers territory, giving the 49ers a massive momentum swing heading into halftime.
Perhaps Warner's most impressive play in this game came on a 3rd & 5 from the 49ers' 40-yard line late in the third quarter. With the game tied at nine and Dallas marching down the field, Warner carried Cowboys star wide receiver CeeDee Lamb 25-plus yards upfield and broke up a pass that ended a Dallas drive that appeared destined to break the tie.
The 49ers responded with a touchdown drive on the very next series and never relinquished the lead for the remainder of the game.
George Kittle Shines
George Kittle finished this game with five receptions for 95 yards, both of which were playoff career highs for the 49ers' star tight end. It was also the highest number of receiving yards that any player has recorded under Shanahan in the divisional round or beyond.
Kittle was transcendent when called upon in this game, authoring an acrobatic catch that became the game's defining play and one that 49ers fans will likely talk about with a smile on their face for many years to come.
It completely swung the momentum into the 49ers' favor and was the catalyst for the 10-play 91-yard drive that gave the 49ers the lead for good in this game.
Kyle Shanahan is a special coach
This shouldn’t need to be said, but given the amount of discussion I’ve seen centered around replacing the 49ers' head coach, it’s time to set the record straight. Shanahan is now 6-2 in the playoffs in his head coaching career and has won multiple playoff games in each of the three postseason runs the 49ers have been a part of under his watch.
Winning games in the playoffs is extremely difficult and often overlooked. Shanahan has, at minimum, gotten his team to a conference title game in three of the six seasons he has been running the show here in Santa Clara.
We all need someone in our lives as reliable as Robbie Gould is
I will continue to talk about this every week of the playoffs because it is one of the most mind-boggling stats I have ever seen. Gould has attempted 29 field goal attempts in his playoff career and made every single one of them. With the pressure mounting and the stakes at their highest, Gould has delivered time and time again.
That included a perfect 4-4 showing against the Cowboys that saw Gould make kicks of 26, 28, 47, and 50 yards. Given the nightmare Dallas just went through with their own kicker over the last week, the value of a player like Gould, who is automatic on the postseason stage, is as valuable as ever.