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Gamebreakers: Cowboys who tried to save the day


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With a chance to exorcise their demon on Sunday, namely the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys instead find themselves still trapped firmly in its grasp until further notice. Their primetime matchup against the 49ers was never really in their hands, with Brock Purdy and company marching down the field to score on the first drive of the game.

That was George Kittle's first of three touchdowns on the evening, as the 49ers methodically overcame their minimal number of errors — including a lost fumble by Christian McCaffrey and a holding penalty in the third quarter that negated a big play — to overpower the Cowboys.

There were at least five players who struck some sort of blow as they tried to will the Cowboys back into the contest, though it was ultimately not enough.

KaVontae Turpin, WR: This time last year, there was a resounding call for the Cowboys to get Turpin involved in the offense, but they answered that bell in 2023. Having delivered his first-ever rushing touchdown in Week 1, Turpin grabbed his first-ever receiving touchdown in Week 5; and in dynamic fashion on a beautiful 26-yard toss from Dak Prescott on 3rd-and-4 to give the Cowboys their first points of the game and pull them within a touchdown in the second quarter. He'd end up exiting the contest with an ankle injury, unfortunately.

Jourdan Lewis, CB: It appears Lewis is back to his ballhawking ways. The veteran cornerback found the defense pressed with their back firmly against the wall on the third offensive drive by the 49ers — threatening to take a 21-0 lead against the Cowboys. One handoff to McCaffrey later, it was Lewis meeting him at the one-yard line to not only force a fumble, but to also recover it. The offense did not capitalize on the takeaway, unfortunately, but Lewis looked hungry all night.

Jake Ferguson, TE: Another week, another strong showing for Ferguson. As the Cowboys' offense struggled to remain consistent in the face of the 49ers' pass rush, the connection between Prescott and Ferguson remained intact. The second-year tight end entered halftime as the team leader in receptions and in receiving yards, catching all of his targets. He's become the steady hand for Prescott, a role that was once owned by Dalton Schultz.

Leighton Vander Esch, LB: As noted, it was a long day for the Cowboys defense. Vander Esch played high-level football, however, as one of the true standouts against the 49ers. The former Pro Bowl linebacker was effective in run defense and did his best to try and reel in an interception that narrowly missed his hands on a deep cross route. He'd end the night as the team-leader in tackles and his effort will not go unnoticed as the Cowboys try to figure out this week all that went wrong in Santa Clara — though he'd also leave with injury.

Johnathan Hankins, DL: It was tough sledding for the Cowboys defense against Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel, but Hankins made sure Brock Purdy remembered his name. The big-bodied defensive lineman had two pass break ups in the first half alone, clogging passing lanes when given the opportunity early in the contest. If Hankins adds this to his skill set, he can only be that much more effective for the Cowboys going forward.

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