49ers Focused on Improvement Against Cowboys


The Cowboys and 49ers will meet for the ninth time in the playoffs since 1971 on Sunday | Image by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

When the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys play in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs on Sunday in Santa Clara, the teams will be meeting in the postseason for the ninth time since 1971.

San Francisco eliminated Dallas from last year’s playoffs in the wild-card round as time ran out on the Cowboys’ late rally when Dak Prescott failed to spike the ball before the clock expired following a poorly-timed quarterback draw.

While Dallas may be looking to avenge that effort, San Francisco was not pleased with how the game ended on its side.

“It was a big win for us,” head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters earlier this week. “I hated how close it got at the end. I felt like we made some mistakes that made it closer than it needed to be.”

All that has led to the 49ers taking a “1-0” approach to each game this season, and the team is in the midst of an 11-game winning streak dating back to a Week 8 win on October 30 against the Los Angeles Rams.

“That’s honestly been the mindset all season, ” linebacker Fred Warner said on the team’s midweek pregame show. “Since we kind of went on that run, the mindset was always ‘1-0.’ I think you look up now and we’re in the playoffs, even more so now it’s that ‘1-0’ mentality.”

Against all likelihood, San Francisco has lost both of its starting quarterback options to season-ending injuries and had to turn to Brock Purdy — a rookie who was the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The strange thing is San Francisco may be even better with Purdy in the lineup.

“He was obviously well grounded before he even saw us,” Warner said of the rookie. “I remember watching him in OTAs when he came in the building. He was as poised of a rookie as I’ve seen.”

“The confidence and the work ethic from day one has always been the same, and he’s continued to get better. That’s what you want to see out of everybody, especially the guy who touches the ball every snap.”

“I don’t think there’s ever been a time where a team’s third quarterback comes in and makes the team better,” said Fox’s Kevin Burkhardt, who will be calling the game on Sunday, added as he joined the show.

“What he’s been able to do. Coming into this situation — which is obviously a tough situation with Jimmy G getting hurt — has been nothing short of incredible.”

While the teams met in the playoffs last year, Shanahan and his staff have noticed some key differences in the Cowboys this season.

“They’re clicking right now,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans told the press this week. “Their playmakers are making plays for them. They’re playing good ball on defense. They’re creating turnovers, which is what you need to do to play great defense.”

“So all around, it’s a really good team we’re playing and a really tough matchup for us.”

“They’re a good team. They’ve been that all year,” Shanahan added. ” And they played their best game on Monday night.”

That game was Dallas’s first road playoff win in 30 years, and it dominated while making a lethal offense with a legendary quarterback who looked a pedestrian.

“To go in and come out with a win against a player like that, we just read the mail there,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told 105.3 The Fan on Tuesday morning. “We kept him looking uphill all night long. It was as good a plan on both sides of the ball as I’ve seen.”

Jones also said that Dak Prescott may have been the most impressive player on the field that night after an inconsistent regular season.

“We got to see what a competitor [he is] and what he can do in a situation where everything’s on the line,” he added. “In my mind, it’s the best game I’ve ever seen him play.”

“Dak’s always been a challenge,” Shanahan said this week. “When things break down, he’s got a knack for how to get out of the pocket and make unscheduled plays. That’s why he’s had such a successful career so far.”

As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, that kind of quarterback has caused some difficulties for the San Francisco defense this season.

The 49ers also want to start the game with a little more energy. The team was trailing at halftime of its wild-card matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, which did not sit well with the coaching staff.

“I didn’t like the way we came out last week,” Ryans said. “That wasn’t representative of who we are. We can come out better to start the game.”

“There’s no better time than right now,” he continued. “Playoffs. Cowboys. Niners. Our defense has to play their absolute best if we want to move forward.”

“The sense of urgency is cranked up this week,” Warner added. “We know we have a challenge with the Cowboys coming to town. We know they’re going to come in ready to go and hungry. Obviously, we gotta play our best.”

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