AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn
Sunday night’s NFC showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers was supposed to be the game of the year to date—a potential NFC Championship Game preview. A titanic battle featuring potent offenses and two of the best defenses in the NFL.
It was none of those things. It was an embarrassment. A humiliation. A beatdown in every way a team can be beat down.
Now, some will see Sunday’s 42-10 thrashing as a coronation of the Niners as the most complete and dangerous team in the league. Maybe it was. But what it really was an unmasking. An exposé. A game that revealed more about the loser than the winner.
Simply put, the Cowboys were exposed. They are in no way in the same weight class as the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. They are not a legitimate threat to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl any more than the New Orleans Saints or Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Cowboys are pretenders. Period. And their quarterback is a lot closer to being Kirk Cousins than Patrick Mahomes.
The 49ers have ended the Cowboys’ season each of the past two years. In the lead-up to this week’s game, Dak Prescott told reporters that he was going to use those setbacks as motivation to get a measure of payback on Sunday night.
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“When you go back and you turn on the tape, I wasn’t my best in either of those games,” Prescott said. “And when close to it, the last one, [we were] two, three plays away from winning that game and that game being a different score.”
Maybe Prescott should have watched film of a different quarterback. Because he was positively putrid against San Francisco. Before being pulled in the fourth quarter of a game that was out of hand, Prescott completed just 14 of 24 passes for 153 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
It’s not like Prescott had been lights-out the first four weeks of the season. Running head coach Mike McCarthy’s “Texas Coast” offense, Prescott had completed a career-high 71.3 percent of his passes. But he was averaging just over 225 passing yards a game and had only four touchdown passes. His numbers were good, but hardly great.
That’s Prescott in a nutshell. Good, but not great.
Yes, Prescott has posted solid stats throughout most of his career. He’s won plenty of regular-season games against inferior opponents. But last year, Prescott led the NFL in interceptions (15) despite missing five games. He’s played in six postseason games and won only two of them.
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To be fair to Prescott, it’s hardly all his fault that the Cowboys got their teeth kicked in on national television.
Before Sunday’s game, McCarthy said that this game was no different than any other. It was less about avenging past defeats than just winning the next game.
“This is not all about what happened last year,” McCarthy said, via the Associated Press. “This is not walking down the street and get in a fight with a guy and then every time you turn the corner you’re looking for him. This is about winning the game. This is about winning the next game. But we know who we’re playing.”
Maybe the Cowboys should have taken things a little more personally. Because they were thoroughly outclassed in every facet of the game.
The Dallas offense had 197 yards—total. The Cowboys turned it over four times, had only eight first downs, gained three yards per carry on the ground and were 4-for-11 of third down.
“Texas Coast?” More like Texas Toast.
The Cowboys’ NFC-best defense in terms of yards allowed entering Sunday’s game didn’t fare any better. Dallas allowed 42 points, 25 first downs and 421 yards of offense in a game where the Niners pulled Brock Purdy early in the fourth quarter. Purdy threw for 252 yards and four touchdowns, including three to tight end George Kittle. Purdy continually found wide-open receivers downfield, largely because the allegedly dominant Dallas pass rush had only one sack and two quarterback hits.
AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn
By weight of comparison, the Cowboys allowed four sacks and nine quarterback hits.
It can be argued that at least some of this isn’t the Cowboys’ fault. The offensive line has been beat up most of the season. Dallas lost cornerback Trevon Diggs to a season-ending ACL tear, and his replacement, DaRon Bland, left Sunday’s blowout for a time.
However, all teams suffer injuries. It’s on McCarthy to cobble together a serviceable offensive line. It’s on defensive coordinator Dan Quinn to put together a decent secondary. On Sunday night, neither of those things happened.
Frankly, we were warned that these Cowboys might be paper tigers. In Week 3, Dallas traveled to Arizona and was beaten rather handily by a bad Cardinals team. Many of the same problems that dogged the Cowboys on Sunday night were evident in that contest. The offense was mistake-prone. The defense allowed 400 yards and allowed a Josh Dobbs-led offense to convert half of its third-down attempts.
The warning signs were there. In Santa Clara, the sirens finally sounded.
Yes, the Cowboys are still 3-2, with three blowout wins on their 2023 resume. But those blowout wins came against the New England Patriots, New York Giants and New York Jets. The Jets are the only one of those three who have more than one win. And all three of those teams are terrible offensively. The 49ers were the first decent team the Cowboys have played this year, and they got absolutely flattened.
This is seemingly an annual ritual with the Cowboys. Maybe it’s the star on the helmet. Or all the history. But every year, folks talk themselves into believing this could be the season that Dallas ends its three-decade Super Bowl drought. And every year, the Cowboys disabuse us of that notion on the field by being OK, but not much more than that.
Let’s be clear. These Cowboys are not going to the Super Bowl. They are not a real threat to the Eagles in the NFC East. They have a better chance of missing the postseason altogether than playing in Vegas in February.
And if you asked me to pick between Prescott and Purdy to win one game for my theoretical team, I’d take Purdy—and it isn’t especially close.