Well, that was a rough Sunday, to say the least. The game seemed like it was going to go the way of the 49ers and before you could blink, everything changed.
What went wrong? Where do the Niners go from here?
Everything seemed to be clicking on Sunday in the first half as the 49ers were able to keep the Cowboys from scoring and got up 14-0 after two good drives.
Blaine Gabbert looked efficient, the running game was working, and receivers were getting open. Did I mention that Gabbert looked good?
Jeremy Kurley scored on a nice 33 yard catch and run to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead. After the defense did its job a few drives in a row, the Niners moved the ball again and got up 14-0 after Carlos Hyde’s 3 yard touchdown run.
Kurley and tight end Garrett Celek were both playing well and the ground game was effective for the first half.
The defense was forcing Dallas into punts and it seemed like San Francisco would go into the locker room with potentially a three-score lead. But as we know, that was not to be.
The Turning Point
I am not about blaming officials for losses. One play should never be enough to decide a game. If it is, it’s your own fault. However, if you watched the game, you saw a major turn of events in a short time.
Facing a critical third down, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott attempted to pass but got wrapped up by two 49ers’ defenders and it looked like a sack was imminent. What happened next sparked a chain of events that not only ended the Niners’ chances, but likely, their season as well.
There was no whistle. Prescott was still not going down. If they let up, he could run. Safety Jaquiski Tartt came around the corner and pushed Prescott forward, trying to knock him to the ground.
“I didn’t hear a whistle so I just kept playing,” Tartt said. “I was just pushing him back.”
The whistle blew mid-shove and the official threw an unforgivable flag, extending Dallas’ drive, which ended up bringing the Cowboys back into the game.
The next drive hurt more. On third down, it was the 49ers who were trying to convert and it would be a Dallas defender holding Jeremy Kurley, but, you guessed it, no call. Dallas would get the ball again, drive down the field with all the momentum and just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, Brice Butler pushed off to score, and again, you guessed it, no call. Just like that, tie game.
The Second Half
San Francisco came out quickly in the second half, getting a nice 32 yard run by Hyde and then a great throw from Gabbert to Celek for another 29 yards put the 49ers in great position to score. Unfortunately, the drive stalled and it would be Phil Dawson extending the lead to 17-14.
After that drive, everything fell apart. NaVorro Bowman ruptured his Achilles and is out for the season. DeForest Buckner suffered a foot injury.
With Bowman and Ray-Ray Armstrong both gone for the year, the inside linebackers are now backups and could not stop Ezekiel Elliot behind their giant offensive line.
Dallas went up 21-17 after a one yard run by Elliot and the 49ers still had a chance. Torrey Smith got behind Morris Claiborne and seemed like he had a chance at a big play, even a touchdown perhaps, but Gabbert made his worst throw of the day, behind Smith and into the waiting arms of Claiborne.
Dallas just had to run out the clock and then were able to snuff out a last minute drive that got only to midfield.
Where do they go from here?
This could have been a big win for the 49ers, one that could have put them back into the division race and sparked a lot of hope and momentum for the rest of the season. Instead, it was so deflating that many feel the season is all but over.
The injury to Bowman hurts more than the loss. Without him, it’s unclear how the defense will function the rest of the way.
While it is possible that we will see some good performances and a few more victories in 2016, it’s likely the best we can hope for is that they find out who can play the best at each position and put up as much fight as possible as the rebuild continues.
All 49ers fans can hope for is that the draft picks continue to develop and some influx of talent can be brought in via free agency.
2016’s fourth round pick Rashard Robinson looks like a real find at corner. He played the whole game and was the highest rated defender from both teams.
Trent Brown is also continuing to look like a cornerstone for the offensive line. The offensive line hasn’t been dominant but it has been much better than the last two seasons. The offensive problems are more due to quarterback and receiver issues.
Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner look like good picks that will anchor the defensive line for years to come. Both continue to improve, but we’ll have to wait to hear more about Buckner’s injury.