For the second season in a row, the 49ers ended the Cowboys' season with a playoff victory. Despite holding the Niners to just 19 points, Dallas’ offense was stifled even more and managed just 12 points on the day.
The Cowboys' Super Bowl drought has now been prolonged by at least another year, and little is more satisfying for the 49ers faithful than that.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the 49ers' win.
An above-average grade for a rookie in the playoffs is nothing to scoff at. Brock Purdy avoided costly mistakes, although he nearly had a pair of notable gaffes. He easily could have had an interception in the red zone when a pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell through the arms of Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.
He also nearly cost the 49ers a field-goal attempt at the end of the first half by holding onto the ball for too long with less than five seconds on the clock. However, those were really the only notable mistakes in his performance.
Purdy’s biggest throw of the night was probably his 31-yard completion to tight end George Kittle, but while he deserves credit for keeping the play alive and giving his playmaker a chance, his throw easily could have had a negative result if Kittle had made a less spectacular play.
Still, Purdy made some short tight-window throws on the Niners' final drives and also was constantly evading Cowboys pass rushers. It’s a testament to his elusiveness that he only took two sacks.
Running backs: C
The 49ers' offensive line did not give San Francisco’s rushers a lot of room to work with, but a well-rested Elijah Mitchell bullied a gassed Cowboys defense in the fourth quarter. Still, Mitchell finished with just 51 rushing yards on 14 carries (and saved the Cowboys a late timeout by going out of bounds on a first down).
Christian McCaffrey had his least productive game in weeks, averaging less than four yards per touch, but he scored the 49ers' only touchdown.
Tight ends: A+
Despite all the talent in the 49ers' skill-position group, George Kittle rose above the rest to be the team’s offensive star of the game. Kittle hauled in all five of his targets for 95 receiving yards, including his incredible 31-yard grab that changed the course of the game.
Kittle is always a physical blocker, but with every other 49ers pass-catcher held to less than 50 yards receiving, he stepped up to carry the load.
Wide receivers: C
It seems pretty clear that Purdy often turns to McCaffrey and Kittle when a play breaks down. Given the Cowboys' pass rush, that probably worked against the Niners receivers on Sunday. Nevertheless, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings combined for just eight receptions on 13 targets for 97 receiving yards. While none of them scored, each member of the trio hauled in a third-down conversion.
Offensive line: C-
The Cowboys have some excellent defensive linemen, so it’s not surprising that the 49ers' line had one of their more erratic performances. I’ve already criticized the 49ers line plenty, so I’ll highlight their play of the day here.
On McCaffrey’s touchdown, the 49ers line put on a clinic, with Mike McGlinchey cutting to his left while Trent Williams and Aaron Banks both pulled across the formation to allow McCaffrey to sprint into the endzone untouched.
Defensive line: B
Dak Prescott was far from the best version of himself on Sunday, but it was not because of an excellent performance by the 49ers' defensive line. Samson Ebukam recorded the Niners' only sack of the game and had half of the team’s four quarterback hits. They also struggled with contain, surrendering four rushes for 22 yards, including a fourth-down conversion. Jalen Hurts will make them pay even more for that if they do not clean it up.
The defensive line stood out far more against the run than pass. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard rarely had any space to maneuver at the line of scrimmage and were held to just three yards per carry on the day.
Fred Warner led the 49ers with 9 total tackles and added a tackle for loss, a pass defended, and an interception. Per PFF, he also surrendered just two receptions for 15 receiving yards on five targets in coverage. Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair combined for 13 total tackles. Greenlaw committed another personal foul, which has become a concerning pattern.
Deommodore Lenoir made a great play in the first half to pick off Prescott and generally did his job slowing down Dallas’ receivers. He did commit pass interference on a 46-yard completion to CeeDee Lamb, but that’s really the only major mistake he made on the day.
Mooney Ward bounced back this week after getting burned on a couple of plays by D.K. Metcalf in the wild-card round. In the slot, Jimmie Ward had 7 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pair of passes defended, including on the play that resulted in Warner’s interception.
Normally the only knock on Talanoa Hufanga is getting beat downfield, but he avoided any of those major mistakes on Sunday. However, he did have some unusual struggles with tackling, missing an opportunity for a tackle for loss and another that allowed Dallas to convert a third down. Tashaun Gipson was quiet, which is usually a sign that he’s doing his job in coverage.
Special teams: B
Ray-Ray McCloud owes the defense after they prevented the Cowboys from scoring a touchdown after his fumble on a punt return. However, to his credit, he returned the subsequent kickoff 53 yards. Most importantly, Robbie Gould made all five of his kicks, including a 50-yard field goal at the end of the first half.