ARLINGTON, Texas– In my wildest imagination, this one wasn’t going to end 49ers 23, Cowboys 17.
No way, not yet. Not another of those crushing finishes as we witnessed seven years ago almost to the day in Green Bay. Not like we saw five years and a day ago right here in AT&T Stadium, again against the Packers.
In this Super Wild Card weekend game before 93,460, the Cowboys at the San Francisco 40-yard line, down six with just 14 seconds left. It was to be the reincarnation of the original Hail Mary 46 years later. Just as Roger Staubach hit Drew Pearson from the 50-yard line with just 24 seconds left for the touchdown to beat Minnesota in a first-round playoff game, it was going to be Dak Prescott hitting the fourth famous No. 88, CeeDee Lamb, for the game-winning touchdown, though needing the extra point, with about seven seconds left.
Then, with Dak sliding down the Niners 24-yard line with nine seconds left, it was going to be The Catch II, the 40-year-old reenactment of Joe Montana from the 49ers to Dwight Clark earning the touchdown in the back. from the end zone to win the NFC title game away from the Cowboys, 28-27. But this time it was safe as Dak moved away from the pressure to his right and threw a pass with time expiring to tight end Dalton Schultz in the back of the end zone who, with the extra point, would have the Cowboys go to Tampa, Fla., next weekend for NFC Round 2.
But damn it, the reason the third-seeded Cowboys were in that last-second precarious situation against the sixth-seeded Niners at home was their own fault.
Before that game, he basically laid out the three things that needed to happen for the Cowboys to advance from a win before they had a chance at their first NFC championship since 1995.
First, and Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy agreed with me, saying Friday, “We understand that this game starts at the front and it will end at the front.
Well, the Cowboys offensive line got booed by the San Francisco defense. Prescott has been sacked five times. Almost worse, he was hit 14 more times as he tried to pass. On top of that, the Cowboys couldn’t rush the ball, just 77 rushing yards on 21 carries, averaging 3.7 per carry. And even worse, Dak’s 17-yard rush late in the game was his longest rush, meaning the other 20 rushes were for just 60 yards.
“It’s no secret we have to get better,” All-Pro goaltender Zack Martin said. “We got a slap in the mouth early today.”
Then there was Deebo, Deebo Samuel. Mr All-All. The Niners’ leading receiver, second-leading rusher and leading scorer with 14 touchdowns. I couldn’t let him dice them. Well, oh, has my brother done it before, rushing 10 times for 72 yards, including that 26-yard touchdown run, and catching three passes for 38 more yards. It’s 110 yards from the scrum.
And then this: All season, and in the majority of the Cowboys’ losses — four of five to possible playoff teams — and as written Friday, the kryptonite of that defense was giving up big plays — 76 of them for more than 20 yards. You just had to buckle up since the Niners had totaled 70 of those biggies themselves. Well, if the Niners hadn’t gassed the Cowboys for 15 plays of at least 10 yards.
Perhaps most damning after Dak was picked on his own 26-yard line with 5:58 left in the third quarter of a 16-7 game was Deebo’s 26-yard end on the very next play. for a touchdown, putting the Cowboys, with one struggling offense, down 16.
Check this out: Those 15 plays of at least 10 yards accounted for 240 of the Niners’ 341 total rushing yards. That means their other 48 plays scored just 101 yards, just over 2 yards per play.
“I feel like we could have done a better job of honoring the moment. You know, taking care of business on the field,” defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. “The results are not what we wanted them to be. So that is what it is.”
And on top of that, 14 penalties, although two of them were to be the first of the season. I don’t remember the Cowboys defensive linemen being called up for holding out all season. And the game penalty delay after the successful fake punt was caused by the referee delaying the game because he thought the Cowboys had substituted – they hadn’t – meaning that the Niners had the right to counter when in fact the Cowboys had a second round. called to be executed by the boat 11.
McCarthy said the referees thought the Cowboys were substituting as one of the players on the sidelines celebrated on the wrong side of the sideline, with the referees believing he was entering the game. Then, after the referee threw the ball in for an official offensive ball, the game was suspended so the Niners could send their defense back into the field. And with 20 seconds remaining on the reset game clock, the Cowboys had no choice but to relaunch their attack on the field.
And they were ready and ready to go with eight seconds left on the clock, but for some reason the referee, and remember the name, Ramon George, stood over the ball until there are only two seconds left on the game clock. The moment he backed up so Dak could get the slam, the timer expired. Under five yards, the Cowboys never managed to overcome first and 15th, scoring a field goal instead four plays later.
Have mercy. And it was a all star crew.
So now you know why, as the clock ticked below 10 seconds, the Cowboys were rushing to the line of scrimmage to steal the ball so they could have one more play to throw for the end zone for try to erase all their transgressions throughout the game. .
But that was the problem. Uh, problems. When Dak slipped, Niners linebacker Azeez El-Shaair landed on him, unhurriedly getting up. I thought no one was supposed to hit the quarterback after surrendering. Whoops.
Then this: there was no official in sight to hand the ball to. In fact, the referee, yes, George, was still on the other side of the 50-yard line when Dak started his slide. None of the referees on the touchline moved for the ball. And with five seconds left in the game, George just arrives at 26.
The rule states that the next play cannot be executed until the umpire has touched the ball to spot it. Well, George spots the ball, and then of all things he spots it, knocking it back half a yard for some reason. There are just two seconds left in the game, and that after he rammed Dak from behind to get to the ball.
By the time he steps back so that center Tyler Biadasz can break the ball, the clock has reached:00.
“The communication I received on the sidelines was that they were looking at it, they were going to put the clock back on the clock,” McCarthy said of what he was told by alternate officials on the sidelines for both teams during the playoffs. . for better communication. “The next thing I know is that they’re running off the field. That’s the only fact I have for you.”
The replay official in the booth must have frozen. No call from New York.
Chief referee Alex Kemp told the 93,000 people present at the game that “it’s the end of the game”.
Of course, and just like that, the team ran off the pitch with debris raining down on disgruntled fans as they plunged down the tunnel.
After the game, speaking to Pro Football Writers Association pool reporter Todd Archer, Kemp said: “The ref spotted the ball correctly.”
When asked if the referee was within a reasonable distance of where the game ended, Kemp replied: “Yes, absolutely.”
Absoutely? George was 25 yards behind the game. Why on earth would he have stayed there so long? What possible offense could he call from so far away?
“We follow the play, keeping an appropriate distance so we can identify fouls, if there are any,” Kemp said, giving no quarterbacks to be 25 yards from play.
And when asked to reaffirm that there was no replay help or a call from New York to possibly intercede due to the late ball placement, Kemp stuck to his guns, saying: “That’s right. It’s handled by the officials on the field.”
Sure, but that’s a whole story.
Lo and behold, another playoff season crumbles to a crushing end. There would be no Hail Mary attempt for salvation. Not another retribution from The Catch, with the Cowboys paying the ultimate price for those unchecked boxes.
So yeah, after all that, and as far as temptations go, “it was just my imagination running away with me” after all.