Eatman: Just Couldn't Match 49ers Playmakers 


SANTA CLARA, Calif. – When you're going into a battle, whether it's a real-life war or a street fight, you'd think the amount of weapons one side has usually plays a factor in the outcome.

Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff game was no exception.

The 49ers had more weapons than the Cowboys going into the game. And definitely had way more ammunition in the second half.

Put that together and the Cowboys are going home from the playoffs once again at the hands of the 49ers in a game that seemed winnable for Dallas, despite suffering key injuries to both sides of the ball, dealing with an erratic kicker and having an offense that couldn't consistently move the ball.

But why does this one hurt so bad? I really wish I knew the answer to that because I can tell just from the interactions I've had from family, friends and other fans … this one hurts.

It's probably not because of just this game, but the entire season and how for one reason or another, it just felt different. A part of me got sucked into thinking that maybe this season was going to be different, and I might actually see what an NFC Championship Game looks like in real life.

But it's not meant to be. I'm not going to sit here and begin to say the 49ers were clearly the better team and that's why they're moving on. I really don't know if they're better. But I know they had more weapons on offense, and that definitely matters.

If you want me to sit here and blame Dak Prescott for this loss, I'm not going to do it. He didn't have his best game. He knows that and he even tried to put the entire loss on his shoulders. Nah, that's him being a leader, but it's not true.

Sure, the Cowboys needed their quarterback to play better. What they needed was for him to be even a shell of what he was last Monday night against the Buccaneers, which I believe was arguably the best game of his career in the most critical game of his career.

But against the 49ers, who have the best defense in the NFL, Dak wasn't at his best. But I'm going to go back to the weapons.

As soon as Tony Pollard went down – on a play that seems about as illegal of a legal tackle as you can find – I had a terrible feeling about the rest of the game. Pollard has given the Cowboys the juice all season long. He's been the biggest home-run threat they've got and someone who can flip the field in a hurry.

On the play he got hurt, he was providing that very element as he sat in the middle of the field and found a soft spot in the 49ers defense. But just like that, his season was over, and to me, the Cowboys' chances of winning this game, or any other, were lost.

And what happened next? The Cowboys had to press because they're now down a major weapon and they can't even settle for a field goal because the team had no confidence Brett Maher would make it.

Think about this, if Maher had made the extra point earlier in the second quarter, Mike McCarthy might elect to kick a 52-yard field goal at the 2:00 warning. I bet we all wish he had kicked it because make or miss, Pollard doesn't get hurt a few plays later.

Hey, I'm on record this week as saying the Cowboys should've stuck with Maher because he has been good all season long, and you'd like to think he could get out of that one-game funk. But he really didn't. Sure he made a couple of second-half kicks, but to me, the damage was done in the first half. The Cowboys lost four points, and we all know how different the game could've been in the second half if the 49ers are playing with a little more pressure.

But if we're counting weapons, yes, the 49ers have one in their kicker – Robbie Gould was automatic all game. Never a doubt he was going to make his kicks, while the Cowboys can't even hit the extra point.

But the 49ers built their team this season for this game, adding a Christian McCaffrey at the trade deadline to pair him up with George Kittle and Deebo Samuel and the others.

What makes them so unique is that they've got a wide receiver who runs the ball and a running back who catches the ball and a tight end who can play receiver and a fullback who can do everything. No, they didn't just kill the Cowboys with a ton of big plays, but it's the threat of all of them running around at once that makes them tough to stop.

When you've got that, Brock Purdy can win another playoff game by just driving the bus. And you know my stance on bus drivers: I think it's a compliment to be that kind of quarterback. All you're trying to do is keep the kids safe or, in this case, protect the ball.

I don't believe Purdy out-played Dak in this game. But I do think he made less mistakes and he was able to do that because he had more weapons.

But give the 49ers credit for that. They assembled a team loaded with offensive firepower. The Cowboys traded away one of their top receivers during the offseason with the hope that we'd see an emergence in a couple of players ready to make that leap.

For the most part, we saw that with CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard this year. But when Pollard went down and Lamb had to do it all on his own, it just wasn't enough.

Sadly, it spoiled a great effort by a Cowboys defense that did its best to hang in there against all of those weapons.

In the end, it wasn't good enough. And it hasn't been good enough in nearly three decades.

This one hurts because the Cowboys were probably as close as they've been to realistically competing for a Super Bowl.

But with the season on the line, they just didn't make enough plays … and didn't have enough of the playmakers to do it.

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