The 49ers are headed to the NFC Championship Game for a second straight season and the third time in four years after beating the Cowboys 19-12 Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
The 49ers’ defense was the star unit, picking off Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott twice and holding him to 206 yards on 23-of-37 passing. Fred Warner led the way with nine tackles and notched a red-zone interception late in the second quarter. Deommodore Lenoir made the 49ers’ other pick in the first quarter, leading to a Robbie Gould field goal to open the scoring.
The San Francisco offense wasn’t flashy, but it wore down the Cowboys’ defense in the second half, with two drives of six minutes or longer that terminated with fourth-quarter scores: A 2-yard Christian McCaffrey rushing touchdown to open the quarter and a 28-yard Gould field goal with just over three minutes left.
In between, the Cowboys mustered a drive of their own that netted a 43-yard field goal by Brett Maher, but Dallas couldn’t answer late and failed on a last-ditch trick play as time expired to end the game.
Brock Purdy had his first game without a touchdown since taking over as the 49ers’ starter, but he did finish with a respectable stat line: 19-of-29 passing for 214 yards. Elijah Mitchell paced the 49ers with 51 yards on 14 carries, including several key runs late to ice the victory. Gould made all four of his field-goal attempts, and George Kittle led the 49ers in receiving, with 95 yards on five catches, including a 30-yard juggling grab on the drive that led to McCaffrey’s score.
Next up is a date in Philadelphia a week from today for a shot at the Super Bowl. Kickoff is set for noon (PT) on Fox.
Here’s what the Niners had to say after the win:
On what stood out from this game:
I feel great. We had a feeling it would be like that and prepared that way. We have a lot of respect for that team, all three phases. We felt we really had to run the ball to negate their pass rush which is really special. To get over 30 carries when we’re averaging just 3.5, that shows how good the team is doing. We wore them down a little bit.
On his team’s rushing performance:
I don’t think in the first half, we had one first down running the ball — I think they were all throwing the ball and I think that changed big in the second half so we still got to go on a little bit, wore them down a little bit.
On Kittle’s catch:
Explosives can jump-start you better than anything and he definitely wasn’t the primary on that and they defended the play very well.
On the defense:
We just made them work for everything. When you take away the run game and you don’t have to be too risky in your coverages, it makes it hard to get explosives and our guys just kept doing it all game.
On the defense holding up after McCloud’s punt fumble:
Ray-Ray’s been unbelievable all year … For them to be down there so quickly and for our defense to hold them to three to tie up the game, and we were able to weather the storm right there, it was a big play.
On whether he shouted at Purdy for holding the ball too long:
(jokingly) No, I never yell.
He made a number of plays. By no means was anything perfect for the whole offense or the whole team, but it seemed like playoff football that game. We were stressing the run game on both sides, and in turnovers, and we did both of those.
On whether they’ll step up another level for Philly next week:
I don’t think you take anything a level up. You try to do as good as you can every single week and I think we got a pretty good team, very talented team and a team that plays well together. I know they do. They’ve been as good as anyone since the beginning of the year and all the way to right now. If you looked at the beginning of the year, you thought Philly would be the last team right here and that’s the way it’s ended up. So we’re going down there, hopefully have a good week of practice and looking forward to the challenge.
On whether they can reflect on three NFC title games in four years:
Not at all yet. Wish we did. But you work so hard to get to these points, these situations, and all we could think about is winning that game and once we did, it’s fun for a little bit but it’s more once you get into the locker room, it’s just ‘All right, now let’s move on to the next one.’
On message to Purdy entering NFC Championship Game:
It’s like every other game. You won’t be able to hear as well, so don’t make it anything more than that … Going to get a good team in a tough environment and sometimes it’s fun to go on the road.
On running the clock near the end of the first half:
I would hate to not get that first down to show you guys why I did it … We don’t want to give the ball back to them.
From Fox postgame interview:
On his juggling catch:
I saw Huf did it a couple weeks ago against the Rams. I was like ‘You know what, how can I make this as dramatic as possible?’ Just shoutout to Brock. I actually wasn’t even in the progression and he still found me, so that’s all that matters. I just appreciate him giving me a shot at catching the ball.
He’s only won I think seven in a row now. Good job, Brock. Playing at a high level, getting our best players the football. He’s awesome and confident in the huddle. He’s just doing a great job. The best part is he shows up every single day, he’s humble and all he wants to do is get better. He’s going to be great for us next week, and just continue on after that.
From press conference:
On his juggling catch:
Just trying to be a little dramatic, get the ratings up, that’s what we’re here for.
On the NFC title game:
At the start of the year back in OTAs, all you’re doing is preparing for the Super Bowl and to be one step away from that, it’s awesome.
On anticipating Philly atmosphere:
I love Levi’s — I think it’s a fantastic atmosphere but if I’m not going to be biases, besides Kansas City, the Eagles, man, they’re pretty top tier. I know how much the fans love the opposing team and all the fans, so it’s going to be really fun. It’s going to be cold and violent and it’s going to be a blast.
On Purdy holding the ball too long at the end of the first half:
Oh dear, that was stressful, wasn’t it?
On Purdy taking care of the ball:
You look at all the teams left in the playoffs, or the teams that were in the playoffs, everyone’s plus-eight or more (in turnover differential). Dallas was plus-10. We were plus-15 or 13, something like that. If you look at every game throughout history in the NFL, the ball is the only thing that matters.
On Micah Parsons:
He’s just a freak athlete … He’s incredibly fast — it’s hard to go against guys like that, especially when they’re as violent as he is and I thought we handled him pretty well today, but he made some awesome plays.
On making faces for the sky cam:
When it’s like four feet above you and I could touch it, it’s pretty hard to miss it.
On having fun:
Football’s a lot easier when you’re having fun and I don’t want anyone to feel like ‘I don’t want to get so stressed out and anxious because we’re in a huge football game’ because at the end of the day, we are playing a kids game.
On handing McCaffrey’s TD ball to Jerry Rice:
I saw Jerry and I was like, Jerry Rice needs a football.
From Fox postgame interview:
On Kittle’s catch:
I thought he was going to one-hand grab it and then he started bobbling it. I was like ‘come on, man’. And yeah, it’s a tip drill but he came down with it and glad we got George on our team.
On playing Philly next week:
That’s what NFL football’s all about, to be able to go into a hostile environment like that. We’re excited, we’re ready for it.
From press conference:
On Kittle’s juggling catch:
That part of the game, we needed a spark, get the ball rolling and for Kittle to make a play like that, you just feel it in the whole stadium like, man, that felt good.
On running down the clock:
At that point of the game, we’re up and we want to take time off the clock and everything like that, but you know, we wanted to also solidify us being up and put points up on the board.
On reflecting on the 49ers-Cowboys rivalry:
It’s pretty cool to see the clock at zero and you see the Niners over the Cowboys, that’s pretty sweet in the playoffs. Credit to the coaching staff getting us right all week. Defense, offense, special teams — it takes everybody, not just one person or a couple guys.
On the close call with the clock and coaching from Shanahan:
I looked left, I didn’t see. Our read was covered. I thought I had a little more time than I had in terms of looking back right to Deebo, and obviously it was a pretty close call. I just got to be better with it — it’s an out there or throw the ball away. He coached me up and got on me, rightfully so.
I want to be better, capitalize on third down and red zone. At the same time, it’s the NFL and it’s not easy to do everything on your own. I have to do my part for this team. I have faith in the guys, the locker room, the coaches. We just play and let everything fall into place.
On the offensive gameplan:
We wanted to run the ball well in the first half. They did a good job of scheming us up, making us throw more in the first half. So yeah, in the second half, we just went to some of our plays that we had drawn up and lined up in the second half, and that’s something that Kyle thought would work and then we thought it did, and then obviously the plays and quick game across the middle helped out, too. I thought they complemented each other very well in the second half.
On the defense:
I know that we got one of the best defenses, if not the best defense in the league, so I just gotta do my part. If we don’t, if we have to punt, it’s OK, our defense will get a stop — we got trust and faith in them, and we’ll pick up and go put points on the board after that.
On his interception:
Yeah, that was huge by Jimmie. Big-time play in a big moment
On the defense returning to form:
It sure felt like us. That one drive where they went on, I think it was a 12-play drive and scored on us. Kind of broke down in coverage a couple times. They had some third-and-shorts that they converted but for the most part, it felt like us, man. Obviously we know that we got to play big-time football in the playoffs.
On the defense stopping the Cowboys after McCloud’s fumble:
Every time we go out there, there’s not much to be said. Wherever they spot the ball, we have to execute. It’s playoff football and we stood up big-time in that moment.
On adjusting after Pollard went out:
I wouldn’t say we adjusted specifically any type of way … You never wish to see a guy limp off the field like that but I think for their offense, it kind of changed things up not having him back there.
I think they have an amazing overall team but offensively, they have a great o-line, great playmakers, Jalen Hurts is having an MVP-type season and I respect the way he approaches the game and his mindset.
On the Cowboys’ final play:
Very strange. I don’t know if they planned to be in that situation, obviously, because it didn’t work very well. But we prepare for everything and when you have players like Jimmie Ward who just come and saw guys out, it makes it easy.
On his health:
I was fighting but made it through great.
On the offense in the second half:
You could just feel guys sticking with it, not panicking, just taking it one play at a time.
On Kittle’s catch.
That was unbelievable. That was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen and that’s a special player doing special things and plays like that definitely boost momentum.
On intensity ramping up in playoffs.
I think with this team, everything’s intense and that was true when I got here and it’s true now. Obviously there’s more on the line.
You see it every day in the way he prepares, you see it in practice and in games. He’s just been an impressive guy to be around in the huddle, so yeah, I’m not shocked anymore. Just who he is now.
On Anthony Lynn:
He’s been great. I think one of the things that is so important is understanding the whole offense, obviously being a head coach, being in the league a long time, playing in it, he understands the full play concept. Every time you go in there, between him and Bobby T, you’re learning.
On prepping for the NFC Championship Game:
The prep starts now getting your body back ready to go. The most important thing is Sunday. It feels good. We have more life. But the prep starts now.
They said they wanted who ?
— Arik Armstead (@arikarmstead) January 23, 2023
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