The days of the blockbuster, hard-hitting, high-flying Cowboys-49ers are put on pause for 2020 as the two teams meet for the 37th time and the first since 2017.
Both teams are in the midst of a disappointing year after high expectations and multiple key injuries. San Francisco (5-8) are nowhere near the level of play the reigning NFC champions were anticipating, while the Cowboys (4-9) are just one loss away from being eliminated from playoff contention.
Here are five of those important storylines for each team heading into Sunday Afternoon's matchup with San Francisco.
- San Francisco has now lost five of their last six games after a 23-15 loss to Washington in Arizona this past Sunday. The 49ers got on the board first as North Texas product Jeff Wilson found the endzone for a 7-0 lead before Washington answered with 23 straight points before the fourth quarter. It was another week without Jimmy Garoppolo who continues his stint on Injured Reserve with a lingering ankle injury. Nick Mullens has been the starter in place of Garoppolo for the majority of the season but has struggled to take care of the football with 10 interceptions to make his 10 touchdown passes this season. Despite outgaining Washington 344 to 193, Mullens two turnovers (an interception and sack fumble) were each returned for Washington's only two touchdowns of the game en route to the win.
- The injury woes for San Francisco continue to build as their top wide out Deebo Samuel reaggravated his hamstring and is feared to be out for the season, but definitely out this week against Dallas. Along with Samuel, their offensive line, and multiple skill players, the 49ers have had nearly the same amount of injury trouble this season as the Cowboys have. All-Pro tight end George Kittle continues to miss time with a foot injury he suffered back on November 3rd while defensive lineman Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas each tore their ACL injuries in the same game in Week 2 against the Jets. All of this is to say that the fall from grace of a Super Bowl berth last season has not been completely at the fault of the play on the field, but with the hand delt in a crazy 2020.
- Despite the excuses that could come from an unpredictable turn of events, there is mounting frustration with the quarterback position without Jimmy Garrapolo as the franchise quarterback in the Bay Area. Garrapolo has missed five straight games with a high-ankle sprain and despite Mullens' struggles in his absence, Kyle Shanahan said he will not risk starting Garrapolo again this season if it could prompt the need of offseason surgery. However, there is a potential that Mullens could be replaced by former University of Iowa product C.J. Beathard as soon as this Sunday. Shanahan hinted at the move Monday when he told local media that he's, "up for anything right now…We'll see how that goes the next couple days."
- Much like the Cowboys, 49ers fans are faced with the rash of injuries and the disappointment of the entire 2020 season. Another commonality is the hope of the 2021 campaign and how draft picks could play a massive role in helping to make them contenders again. Along with the reinforcements that are coming off the injured list, San Francisco could easily be one or two pieces from another Super Bowl run and depending on who is asked, that piece could be a young quarterback. At 5-8, the 49ers are currently slotted to pick 12th in the draft but with a loss this weekend against Dallas could easily find themselves in the top ten. It is a dilemma that is entirely from those outside the organization itself, but it is a significant storyline when they come to Dallas this weekend.
- Sunday marks the first regular season meeting between these two old rivals since 2017 and first in Arlington since 2014. That 2014 meeting has been remembered for the massive amount of San Francisco fans that were in attendance and dominated the TV screen during a 28-17 49ers win at AT&T Stadium. However, the Cowboys have actually dominated the rivalry as of late and won five of the last six meetings including with some revenge on that 2014 loss by winning back-to-back seasons in Santa Clara in 2016 and 2017. Dallas took care of business with a 40-10 blow out win in the most recent meeting between the two teams, the third-largest margin of victory through the 38 all-time meetings.
- Dallas is coming off just their fourth win of the season with a road win over a struggling Cincinnati team, 30-7. In their most convincing win of the 2020 campaign, Dallas did not allow more than 20 points for the first time all season thanks to the early jolt of three first-half turnovers. One of those turnovers resulted in a 78-yard Aldon Smith fumble recovery for a touchdown, the first score of his professional career. Andy Dalton returned to Cincinnati after being their franchise quarterback for nine seasons and tossed a pair of touchdown passes against his former team in the win.
- The Cowboys front office wasted no time this week when backing their first-year head coach Mike McCarthy on whether or not he was going to be back for the 2021 season. COO Steven Jones said on Monday to 105.3 The Fan that there's, "Absolutely no change with coach McCarthy, and I am surprised that someone would question Mike." Jones continues to say that, "These are unprecedented situations that everyone's been in. On top of that, no one is making excuses, but we have had some real challenges in the injury category." Jerry Jones echoed that sentiment in his Tuesday morning interview with The Fan by calling it 'ridiculous' that anyone would question the long-term future of McCarthy after a season like this one. McCarthy is 8-21 in the regular season since October of 2017 and was surrounded by different media reports this week that there are some potential changes coming in his coaching staff for 2021.
- One of the areas most effected by the injury concerns lately is the situation in the secondary. With Trevon Diggs, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Donovan Wilson each missing multiple games this season, the revolving door of personnel has not been helpful in turning around one of the more struggling units. Luckily, McCarthy expects the trio of Wilson, Awuzie, and Diggs to make a return to practice this week ahead of the battle with the 49ers. Last week the Cowboys were deep into their bag at defensive back by having Savion Smith and Rashard Robinson see significant snaps before even they were banged up in the second half.
- Something that McCarthy has yet to check off the list in his first season as the head coach, is win back-to-back games. In fact, Dallas hasn't strung together consecutive wins in over 15 months since they took down Philadelphia and New York in Week 7 and Week 9 last year (with a bye week in-between). There has been a noticeable difference in games following a win as the Cowboys have been outscored by a combined 60 points in games after their first three wins of the year. Not to mention there's another opportunity to end a skid this week as Dallas has now lost three straight home games but have a chance to turn around multiple fates with a win.
- Putting records and expectations aside, the Cowboys saw their chances of winning the NFC East take a massive hit last week, ironically enough, with the San Francisco loss to Washington. The Football Team have all of a sudden won four straight games, by far the longest win streak in the division this season and have taken a one game lead with a 6-7 record. Dallas is the only team in the division that does not play a team with a winning record the rest of the way but sits as an outside chance with Washington holding the tiebreakers. Washington has Seattle, Carolina, and Philadelphia left on their schedule needing just one win to seal the Cowboys fate. With one more Washington win or a single Cowboys loss, Dallas would be eliminated from playoff contention.