The Dallas Cowboys booked an opportunity at a rematch of the 2021 Wild Card defeat with a crushing win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round.
Their reward is a trip to the West Coast to face the San Francisco 49ers, who dismantled the Seattle Seahawks in the opening game of the playoffs. The marquee matchup is slated for 5:30 pm CST on Sunday to close out the 2022-23 Divisional Round.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had one of the best games of his career against the Buccaneers to earn his first career win against Tom Brady. Prescott passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding continuing his recent trend of tossing game-altering interceptions.
Prescott moved well in the pocket, and his passes were particularly accurate in the second half of the game as Dallas pulled away.
The 49ers have found a diamond in the rough in rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who was the last player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, but his performance in the previous six games has earned him the nickname “Mr. Relevant.”
Purdy had another outstanding game last week against a stumbling Seattle defense, throwing three touchdowns and 332 yards without an interception.
As important as the performance of both offenses was in their respective Wild Card matchups, the defenses set the tone and ultimately won the games. Both teams enter the Divisional Round showdown with fierce, fast, and dangerous defensive units that have helped both teams overcome serious injuries at quarterback this season.
The Cowboys’ Micah Parsons was on fire against Tampa Bay, flying around the ball on nearly every play. He recorded one sack on Brady and had two tackles for loss while forcing Brady to make rushed throws into the bench numerous times throughout the game.
Parsons was on the Cowboys’ injury report this week but is expected to play on Sunday.
Fellow linebacker Leighton Vander Esch made a triumphant return following a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the season finale. Against Tampa Bay, the usually-run-focused Vander Esch was alive in the secondary, slapping two passes to the grass and recording nine total tackles.
The 49ers’ defense features a dangerous combination of pass rushers, starting with Nick Bosa. Bosa was a constant threat in the backfield for Seattle and was in a perfect position to recover a fumble on a Geno Smith strip-sack.
Bosa had three solo tackles and a tackle for loss in the win.
The 49ers’ offensive success depends on receiver Deebo Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey. The Cowboys’ defense will be tasked with slowing these two down and putting increased pressure on Purdy to make rookie mistakes — a task that no team has yet to accomplish.
The 49ers’ defense is built to stop the run, and Dallas has not had explosive running performances in recent weeks. Tony Pollard will remain the Cowboys’ best option for outside-the-tackle runs and screens out of the backfield, while Ezekiel Elliott will be counted on in short-yardage opportunities.