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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

San Francisco 49ers defensive back K'Waun Williams (24) celebrates with teammates after...
San Francisco 49ers defensive back K'Waun Williams (24) celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott during the second half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)(Roger Steinman | AP)
Published: Jan. 16, 2022 at 8:07 PM CST
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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Deebo Samuel and the San Francisco 49ers have started another playoff run after hanging on in a frantic wild-card finish against Dallas.

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will have to keep waiting for that elusive deep trip in the postseason.

San Francisco’s versatile receiver ran 26 yards for a touchdown the play after an interception by Prescott, and the 49ers held on for a 23-17 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.

The Cowboys had a final chance with 32 seconds remaining and were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds to go when Prescott took off up the middle intending to slide and spike the ball for a final play.

But Dallas didn’t get the snap off from the 24 until after the clock hit 0:00. After a brief delay, referee Alex Kemp announced the game was over.

The 49ers overcame an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter. Prescott ran for a touchdown to get within a score, and had a chance to drive Dallas to a go-ahead score. But the 49ers got a stop at midfield when Prescott’s desperation fourth-down pass was just out of the receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach.

After a 14th penalty from the NFL’s most-penalized team in the regular season that helped San Francisco run out most of the clock — and the frantic final seconds as Dallas tried for the win — the 49ers (11-7) clinched their first playoff victory at the Cowboys in a storied postseason rivalry.

Now they head to Green Bay for a divisional game, looking for another trip to the NFC championship game.

“It was like the whole day, it really was,” Garoppolo said of the final sequence. “It was a dogfight, hell of an atmosphere out here. I mean, the fans were nuts. It was everything we thought it was going to be. It was fun.”

The wait for Dallas (12-6) to get that far in the playoffs will reach at least 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips over six seasons for the star quarterback. It was his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-a-year contract in the offseason.

The 49ers were in control in the fourth quarter, but not leaning on the running game they figured could carry them to a win when Garoppolo threw an interception to Anthony Brown that set up Prescott’s 7-yard scoring run.

Garoppolo’s mistake wasn’t long after Prescott was picked off at the Dallas 26 by K’Waun Williams and Samuel ran untouched on a cutback up the middle to the end zone on the next play for a 23-7 lead.

San Francisco lost star pass rusher Nick Bosa to a concussion just before halftime when he was crunched in the head and neck area by teammate D.J. Jones. But the 49ers kept enough pressure on Prescott, finishing with five sacks while holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 307 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.”

San Francisco scored on its first four possessions, but three times settled for field goals from Robbie Gould to help keep the Cowboys close.

The Cowboys had all three timeouts after Prescott’s desperate pass to Wilson fell incomplete.

The 49ers got a first down on the second holding penalty by a Dallas defensive lineman on a running play, and Samuel got all but a few inches needed for a first on a third-and-11 run with a minute remaining.

San Francisco planned to finish off the victory with a fourth-down play, but a false start penalty led to a punt instead.

The Cowboys started at their 20 with 32 seconds to go. Wilson pitched to CeeDee Lamb on a hook-and-ladder play for 20 yards, and tight end Dalton Schultz gained 9 yards before getting out of bounds with 14 seconds remaining.

When Prescott slid at the end of a 17-yard run, there were eight seconds to go. The snap didn’t beat the clock.

San Francisco 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.

As was the case most of the season, Dallas couldn’t get the running game going with Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion had 31 yards on 12 carries as the Cowboys were outgained 169-77 on the ground.

Prescott was 23 of 43 for 254 yards. Garoppolo, who doesn’t know when his last game with the 49ers will be with rookie Trey Lance waiting his turn, was 16 of 25 for 172 yards.

MONEY KICKER

Gould is now the career leader for makes in the playoffs without a miss at 18. Two of his field goals were from at least 50 yards (53, 52).

INJURIES

Concussions almost sidelined the best pass rushers for both teams. Before Bosa was injured, standout Dallas rookie Micah Parsons left in the first quarter. He was evaluated and returned.

UP NEXT

49ers: Head to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the divisional round.

Cowboys: Season ends with the first wild-card loss in three playoff trips for Prescott.

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