After being defeated by the San Francisco 49ers in each of the last two playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys came into this Sunday night showdown with something to prove. Owning three convincing wins in this young 2023 season, they wanted, perhaps even needed, to show that they could bully the bully.
Talk about a reality check. In the end, Dallas was again outmuscled and outplayed in a humbling 42-10 loss to the 49ers. Once again, the Cowboys just seemingly were not on the same level as their NFC nemesis.
Quite simply, the vaunted Dallas defense was unable stop the 49ers' assortment of weapons. The Cowboys had given up only 41 points combined in their first four games before allowing 42 in this one alone.
San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy completed 71 percent of his passes for 252 yards and a career-high four touchdown throws for a 144.4 passer rating, which was also a personal best. Tight end Greg Kittle led all pass catchers with 67 receiving yards, also a career high for him. In all, the 49ers rushed for 170 yards on their way to 422 total yards overall. They converted 55 percent of their third-down chances and 4-of-5 red-zone opportunities.
Not that the other side of the ball was any better for the Cowboys. A shell-shocked Dak Prescott completed 58 percent of his passes for 153 yards and a touchdown, but also had a season-high three interceptions for a 51.6 rating. As a group, Dallas had only 57 yards rushing and 197 yards in total without a single trip to the red zone.
Needless to say, the Cowboys didn't get off to the kind of start they wanted as the 49ers took the opening possession and, helped by a pair of Dallas penalties, promptly marched 75 yards in seven plays for the game's first score. Purdy completed 4-of-5 passes for 43 yards, the last a 19-yard strike to Kittle in the end zone for the touchdown.
And then a Cowboys offense that had yet to get a first down on its first two possessions, fumbled on the first snap of its third try. Linebacker Fred Warner punched the ball out of Tony Pollard's hands on a sweep around the left end with the 49ers' Kevin Givens recovering the prize at the Dallas 16-yard line.
Twenty-eight seconds into the second frame, however, the Dallas defense returned the favor. Cornerback Jourdan Lewis met McCaffery at the 2-yard line and not only forced the fumble but recovered the ball as well. The Cowboys offense couldn't dig out of the hole, but at least this San Francisco threat was thwarted.
Of course, after Dallas went three-and-out again, Bryan Anger had to punt out of his own end zone, which the 49ers returned for 14 yards to the Cowboys' 38-yard line. And one play later, they were back in the end zone. With the secondary biting on the flea-flicker, Purdy took the return handoff and found Kittle wide open down the right sideline, the tight end racing to his second touchdown of the night.
Prescott and company finally found their form on their next drive as the quarterback completed 5-of-6 passes for 62 of the Cowboys' 78 yards to pay dirt. The quarterback dropped in a perfect 26-yard pass to a speeding KaVontae Turpin on the right side of the end zone to get Dallas on the board.
Unfortunately, the 49ers responded … with more help from the Cowboys. The Dallas defense appeared to be off the field when a pass to McCaffery on third-and-4 at the San Francisco 46-yard line fell incomplete. But a personal foul on Donovan Wilson, his second 15-yarder of the night, provided a new set a downs. Given the gift, San Francisco went on score once more, McCaffery forcing his way across the goal line from 1 yard out to give the home side a 21-7 lead at the break.
Through the first 30 minutes, the 49ers had outgained Dallas, 212 yards to 93, which included holding the Cowboys to just 21 yards rushing. Of the visitors' seven possessions in the first two quarters, six lasted no more than three plays.
The receiver/returner Turpin (ankle) and special teams ace C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) were both ruled out for the rest of the game.
Regardless, getting the ball to start the second half, the Cowboys desperately needed to find some momentum. And they did to a degree as a 29-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb helped Dallas get into enemy territory. But when a third-and-4 run at the San Francisco 31-yard line lost a yard, out came Brandon Aubrey to split the uprights on a 50-yard field goal.
Field goals, of course, weren't going to win this one, especially when the 49ers came right back with another touchdown drive. As Purdy picked apart the Dallas defense, San Francisco drove the needed 75 yards in seven plays. Kittle once again got the scoring honors, this time on a 10-yard catch.
When Prescott was then intercepted on the Cowboys' next drive, the game was all but over.
San Francisco took that turnover and turned it into a 12-play, 62-yard drive that ate up 6:42 of clock, the score coming two plays into the final quarter. Purdy gave Kittle a break and instead let Kyle Juszczyk record his first touchdown of the season, dumping a 1-yard pass off to the wide open fullback to increase the lead to an insurmountable 25 points.
Yet there was still nearly a full quarter to play, meaning things only got worse. Another Prescott interception on the Cowboys' next series was immediately followed by running back Jordan Mason darting off left tackle 26 yards to the end zone for the touchdown.
Adding salt to the wound, Leighton Vander Esch was also injured on the play, leaving the game, and was followed later in the quarter by Wilson, who limped off the field as well.
After another 49ers interception, both Prescott and Purdy's nights were done, the backups stepping in to mercifully run out the clock. The Cowboys will now hope to regroup with another trip out to California, this coming at the Los Angeles Chargers next Monday night.