49ers escape with a 23-17 Wild Card win over the Cowboys in a surreal finish

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel, middle, are excited after defeating the Dallas Cowboys with tight end George Kittle (85) and fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) at AT&T Stadium Dallas on Sun Jan 16, 2022 (AP News photo)

by Marko Ukalovic

ARLINGTON, Texas — It was an ending that will be talked about on both sides for the next eight months.

The final 1:49 of the NFC Wild Card game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys ended in a bizarre fashion with twists and turns that left one team having to answer questions and one team filled with relief as the Niners defeated the Cowboys 23-17 on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

San Francisco thought they had game wrapped up when Deebo Samuel ran an end around to the right for ten yards for a first down with 40 seconds left on 3rd and 10. However, after review, the ball was marked inches short and forced the 49ers to punt the ball one last time.

On the ensuing drive, and out of timeouts, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott led his team down the 49ers 41-yard line with 14 seconds left. Prescott ran a quarterback sneak up the middle down to the 24-yard line. As the offense rushed up the field trying to spike the ball before expired, they tried hiking the ball before the umpire set the ball. The time clock reached 0:00 and Dallas was left with what could have been.

The 49ers now head to Green Bay to take on the NFC’s #1 seed Packers next weekend in the conference Divisional Playoff Game. Dallas season ends in disappointment after capturing the NFC East title.

“It was pretty emotional out there,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “Lots of opportunities we had to win the game. Those guys (Dallas) kept fighting. We made a couple of mistakes there at the end. We shouldn’t have let it get there. It was a hell of a win by the guys.”

San Francisco drew first blood on its opening possession. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led his team on a seven play, 75-yard drive that had four consecutive plays of 10 yards or more. Running back Elijah Mitchell capped off the drive with a four-yard rushing touchdown.

Dallas did the exact opposite on its first position that went three and out that ended with a Nick Bosa sack of Prescott for 10 yards.

The 49ers outgained the Cowboys by 103 yards (110-7) in the first quarter as they controlled the play with 19 offensive plays to just eight for Dallas.

The Cowboys answered back on its first possession of the second quarter. Prescott led Dallas on a nine play, 67-yard drive when he connected with wide receiver Amari Cooper on a 20-yard touchdown reception down the right slide line with 4:21 left in the first half.

San Francisco scored on all four possessions in the first half with three fields goals by Gould and the Mitchell touchdown.

Bosa suffered a concussion late in the first half that ended the day for him when he was hit with friendly fire when teammate DJ Jones’ leg hit Bosa in the head.

The 49ers defense responded for their fallen teammate as they made the Cowboys punt on two of their first three possessions to start the second half.

The other possession resulted in a K’Waun Williams interception of Prescott at the Cowboys 26-yard line.

San Francisco didn’t waste time making Dallas pay for Prescott’s miscue. Deebo Samuel took a pitch to the right side, cut back in the middle and run for a 26-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a commanding 23-7 lead. It was the first rushing touchdown by a wide receiver in the postseason in franchise history.

Samuel, who rushed for a record eight touchdowns by a wide receiver during the regular season, finished with 72 yards on 10 carries.

“It was getting kind of crazy at the end,” Samuel said.

On their fourth possession, Dallas executed a fake punt on a 4th and 5 when punter Bryan Anger threw a 16-yard reception to C.J. Goodwin down to the 49ers 36-yard line.

However, penalties, which plagued Dallas on offense for most of the game, and San Francisco’s relentless pressure on Prescott forced the Cowboys to settle for a Greg Zuerlein 51-yard field goal.

Tight end George Kittle didn’t have a catch in the game until an 18-yard reception with 11:49 left in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys shifted the momentum when Anthony Brown intercepted Garoppolo at the 49-yard line and returned it 23 yards down to the 49ers 28-yard line.

Dallas cashed in on the turnover on five plays when Prescott ran in for a five-yard touchdown on a 3rd and goal play to cut the lead to 23-17. During the drive linebacker Fred Warner was injured when suffered an ankle injury.

It looked like the game was over when the Cowboys turned the ball over on downs with 1:49 left in the game. Dallas took over possession at their own 16-yard line with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter. They drove to the 49ers 47-yard line before turning the ball on down when Prescott’s pass to Cedric Wilson Jr. deep down the field fell incomplete.

But Dallas’ defense was able to force the Niners to punt the ball with 40 seconds left to set up the unbelievable ending that allowed San Francisco to escape out of AT&T Stadium with the win.

San Francisco’s defense finished with five sacks and the one interception. They held Eziekiel Elliot to a quiet game with just 31 carries on 12 carries.

Garoppolo finished with 16 of 25 for 172 yards and one INT with a QB rating of 67.4. Mitchell paced the offense with 96 yards on 27 carries. Brandon Aiyuk led the 49ers in receiving with five catches for 66 yards.

“It was similar last week on how we did it (won the game),” Garoppolo said. “It’s one of those things where you gotta keep grinding with it. It’s playoff football. It’s that time of year.”

Prescott finished 23 of 43 for 254 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a QB rating of 69.3. Tight end Dalton Schultz led the Cowboys in receiving with seven catches for 89 yards.

“Not good enough. I take accountability for this loss. I’ve got to be better. We definitely underachieved. And it sucks,” Prescott said.

Dallas matched a franchise record for the 14 penalties they had in the game.

GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished 6-for-13 on third down conversions. Dallas was 5-for-14.

The Cowboys have now gone 11 straight playoff appearances without reaching a conference championship game. That’s the longest streak by any team in NFL history.

UP NEXT: San Francisco take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Lambeau Field. Date and time TBD.

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