SANTA CLARA, California. With two great defenses in the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, it’s no surprise that Sunday’s NFC division game was low on points.

In the end, the Nines did enough to break away in the fourth quarter with a 19–12 victory to advance to the playoffs.

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The 49ers will head to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game on Sunday (3:00 pm ET, Fox).


San Francisco 49ers

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After several offbeat numbers over the past month, the 49ers defense has heard all the rumors.

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The same team that led the NFL in most major defensive categories all season showed signs of fatigue, skeptics said, with stronger playoff rivals poised to pounce.

But on Sunday at Levays Stadium, the 49ers defense was a stark reminder of what it represents, shutting out Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott & Co. en route to the Niners’ third conference title game in four seasons.

Linebacker Fred Warner and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir threw interceptions as the 49ers finished 1-plus in turnover. San Francisco is now 15-0 this season when it wins or ties the turnover battle. Dallas finished with just 282 offensive yards at 4.7 yards per game and was 5 of 15 on third down.

The Niners, who had won 12 straight games in a season for the first time since 1984, took the lead to face the Eagles with a Super Bowl bid.

QB breakdown: The Dallas defense was the toughest challenge rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has faced since he became a starter in Week 14, and it made life hard for him all day long. When Purdy was pressured, the Nines struggled. When he had time to quit, he was hard.

But the largest Purdy number that day was zero. As well as the number of revolutions he had. It mattered as Purdy completed 19 of 29 passes for 214 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.

Prior to this season, there has never been a rookie QB throwing for 200 yards without interceptions in a playoff game. Purdy has done this in consecutive post-season contests.

Main game: Trapped in the mud for most of the day, the Niners offense needed a spark, any spark, to get going. It happened with 5 minutes 19 seconds left in the third quarter when Purdy rolled to the left and saw tight end George Kittle rushing down center field.

Purdy’s shot hit the target, but Kittle got too carried away. So Kittle improvised by reaching out with his right hand and juggling it twice before pulling it out 29 yards. Shortly thereafter, the Niners offense found support on the ground and scored the game-winning 2-yard touchdown held by Christian McCaffrey eight games later.

Describe the game in two words: Heavyweight fight. They were two of the top three teams in the NFC all season, and while both offenses were explosive enough, the defense was consistently the best on both sides. This came to the fore on Sunday when they stood in the center of the ring and traded blows for the full 60 minutes before the Nines took the win.

Underestimated stats you need to knowMcCaffrey’s fourth-quarter touchdown was his eighth consecutive game with a touchdown, the longest streak of his career and the longest for the 49ers since Terrell Owens scored a nine-game touchdown in 1998. Nick Wagoner


Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys’ season ends where it always has: in the divisional playoffs.

The Cowboys’ loss to the 49ers was their seventh straight divisional round loss, the longest streak in the second round of the NFL playoffs. After winning Super Bowl XXX in the 1995 season, the Cowboys lost to the Carolina Panthers (1996), New York Giants (2007), Minnesota Vikings (2009), Green Bay Packers (2014, 2016), Los Angeles Rams (2018). and now nines.

What went wrong against San Francisco?

Prescott was intercepted twice in the first half (leading to two field goals by the Niners); kicker Brett Maher missed another extra point (five misses in two playoff games); running back Tony Pollard retired after breaking his left fibula; and in the second half the defense was blown away. As a result, the Cowboys’ Super Bowl drought has gone on for 27 years and they are facing a daunting offseason that sees them with limited salary cap options, major free agent decisions and the potential loss of two head coach coordinators. in the other place.

QB breakdown: Prescott didn’t have to play perfectly to beat the Niners, but he did have to avoid making mistakes. He didn’t. He became the first Cowboys quarterback to throw two steals in a playoff game since Troy Aikman in the 1998 wild-card round. The Cowboys are now 6-13 in the playoffs having been intercepted by their quarterback several times in the game. After finding wide receiver C.D. Lamb just once in last season’s playoffs against San Francisco (five), Prescott moved almost exclusively to Lamb on Sunday. Prescott’s second interception was a killer because it landed on the San Francisco 18-yard line. It was just Prescott’s second red zone pick of the season. Another occurrence came from an overtime loss to the Packers in Week 10.

Biggest hole in the game plan: The problem wasn’t so much the game plan, but the loss of Pollard in the second quarter. Without Pollard, the Cowboys’ running game came to nothing. Without his speed and elusiveness, the Cowboys could do nothing against the Niner’s defense, which kept an individual runner out of 70 yards during the season. Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t averaged more than 4 yards per carry in a game since Week 14, and he rushed for 26 yards per 10 carries against the 49ers.

Worrying trend: It’s hard to blame the Cowboys’ defense for anything; but in the second half, it allowed a 91-yard goal in a 9–9 lead, and after the Cowboys closed the gap to 16–12, they allowed a 64-yard field goal. In the first six shots of the game, the Cowboys did not concede more than 46 yards while scoring three field goals in the process. For a defense that was fueled by quarterback pressure and shooting, she had a hard time getting to Purdy in the second half, and Trevon Diggs turned down a potential interception on a 91-yard pass.

Underestimated stats you need to know: According to the Elias Athletic Bureau, Maher is the only player in NFL history to have more than two failed extra points attempts in a single postseason; he missed five games in his last two playoff games, including one on Sunday. — Todd Archer