Dak, Cowboys run out of time in playoff loss to 49ers

Published 9:35 pm Sunday, January 16, 2022

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys thought they were going to get one more snap, one more chance to avoid another playoff setback.

Prescott’s spike at the end of a wild final sequence came too late. Time had run out on this season, the 26th in a row for Jerry Jones’ team ending well short of another Super Bowl.

“I thought everything was executed well — until it wasn’t,” Prescott said after the 23-17 wild-card loss at home to the San Francisco 49ers.

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In the final minute Sunday, San Francisco had to punt after All-Pro Deebo Samuel’s run initially was ruled to have picked up a first down before a video review showed he was inches short. Then the 49ers’ All-Pro tackle, Trent Williams, was penalized for not being set on Jimmy Garoppolo’s successful sneak for the first down, and the 49ers instead had to kick.

Dallas got the ball at its 20 with 32 seconds remaining. Prescott completed three consecutive passes, with the receivers getting out of bounds each time, and there were 14 seconds left when he ran 17 yards to the 49ers 24. But the ball never got officially set for another play before time ran out, even though the quarterback did spike it.

“It’s the right decision,” coach Mike McCarthy said of that running play. “We shouldn’t have any problem getting the ball spiked.”

Prescott, the $40 million-a-year quarterback, got tackled from behind and said he saw 4 seconds on the clock when lining up behind center Tyler Biadasz. But umpire Ramon George then bumped into the quarterback while moving the ball about a half a yard for the official spot.

“I tried to gather myself back and still thought I had time to get it down,” Prescott said. “In hindsight, I could say I should have went down sooner if I’d have known all of that was going to play out that way. I also think if I don’t get hit from behind, it’s clean and we’re clocking the ball with at minimum a second if not more, it not two or three on the clock.”

McCarthy said he’s never seen a collision like that between an umpire and quarterback in an end-game situation, and thought from what he heard from a sideline official that the play was being reviewed and time would be added back to the clock. That never happened.

“The next thing I know, (officials) are running off the field,” he said.

Referee Alex Kemp said in a pool report that George was trailing the play at a proper distance and acted appropriately to get the ball spotted correctly. The umpire has to touch the ball before another play can happen.

Kemp said the decision that the snap came after the clock had expired was made on the field, not on a replay assist from New York.

“The umpire was simply spotting the ball properly,” Kemp said. “He collided with the players as he was setting the ball because he was moving it to the proper spot.”

The 49ers needed a frantic comeback a week ago to beat the Rams and make the postseason. Now, they move on, while NFC East champion Dallas is done early again.

The wait for Dallas (12-6) to reach even an NFC championship game will tick up to 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips over six seasons for the star quarterback.

“Tough to accept,” said Prescott, a former Mississippi State star. He passed for 254 yards and a touchdown, and also scored a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Cowboys tried to rally from a 23-7 deficit. “Definitely tough to accept.”

The 49ers (11-7) overcame an interception by Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter, and now are headed to a divisional playoff at top-seeded Green Bay two years after reaching the Super Bowl and losing to Kansas City.

“I’m still trying to figure out where I’m at,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after coaching San Francisco’s first playoff victory at Dallas in a storied postseason rivalry. “It’s pretty emotional out there. Lots of opportunities to win the game. Those guys (Cowboys) just kept fightin’. We made a couple mistakes there at the end. We shouldn’t have let it get there.”

So much went wrong for the Cowboys even before their comeback fell short. There was the pass that whizzed by the head of open receiver Cedrick Wilson, who apparently never saw the ball looking back into the sun shining through the huge glass doors on the west end of AT&T Stadium. There were 14 penalties, a few wiping out big gains.

There were no desperately needed do-overs, except for the punt that hit the huge video board looming high above the field.

These Cowboys are still a long way from where they were the last time they played San Francisco in the postseason — in three consecutive NFC championship games in the mid-1990s. Since winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 1995 season, when they beat Green Bay in the NFC title game, the Cowboys haven’t made it past the divisional round of the playoffs. They didn’t even get that far this time, in their 11th postseason appearance since those three Super Bowl titles over a four-season span early in Jones’ ownership of the team.

When asked the last time he was this disappointed after a loss, Jones bluntly said he couldn’t remember.

“I’m just disappointed that we were in that spot,” Jones said of the desperation finish. “The makeup of not only the personnel but our season, I didn’t think I was going to be standing here with you tonight visiting like this, for sure.”

Dallas was down 16-7 just before halftime, and facing third-and-20 from midfield, when Prescott threw toward Wilson. While it still would have been short of a first down, a completion would have at least given Greg Zuerlein the chance to attempt a long field goal.

The Cowboys were fourth-and-20 to start the second half — after consecutive false start penalties and a Prescott sack — when Mark Nzeocha got a personal foul for roughing the punter. Six plays later, punter Bryan Anger was back on the field and his towering kick ricocheted off the bottom of the massive board.

“This is very unusual,” Kemp said when announcing what happened, adding that it “amounts to a do-over.”

Dallas needed more than that.

After getting the most penalties in the NFL during the regular season, the Cowboys tied their season high with 14, including defensive end Randy Gregory getting penalized for holding on a running play in the final two minutes.

Already down 10-0, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for a 32-yard gain into 49ers territory on Dallas’ second possession. But that third-down completion was wiped out by a holding call, and they punted a play later.

Another long completion to Lamb late in the third quarter was erased because of an illegal shift. The Cowboys did recover from that to get a 51-yard field goal from Zuerlein and make it 23-10. They got their last touchdown on a 5-yard scramble by Prescott to capitalize on an interception by Anthony Brown.

That was the only turnover forced by the Cowboys, who led the NFL with 34 takeaways in the regular season.

San Francisco scored on its first four possessions, but three times settled for field goals from Robbie Gould to help keep the Cowboys close. Rookie Elijah Mitchell ran for 96 yards and the game’s first points on a 4-yard run. Samuel had 72 yards on 10 carries and three catches for 38 yards.

“Guys just stepping up big in big key situations, that’s really what it was all day,” Garoppolo said. “Early on, we got it rolling with the offense and the defense just throughout the entire day. We got some dogs on our defense, man. It’s fun.”