In true Christmas spirit, the San Francisco 49ers gifted Dallas 24 points off of four turnovers for the Cowboys' first consecutive wins of the season.
With 30,000 people on hand to catch the game in Dallas, a lot of red and gold was visible in the stands throughout the broadcast. 49ers fans who were in attendance were treated to a high-scoring game featuring a crazy finish with 23 points scored in the final 2:27 of regulation.
The Niners began the game right where they left off last weekend, suffering two first-quarter fumbles in near identical spots around their own 20-yard line.
Despite going down 14-0 early, a five-yard touchdown reception by TE Jordan Reed near the end of the first quarter brought the game back into contention and saved an ugly blowout.
49ers QB Nick Mullens looked capable and confident early in his eighth start of the season, making a tough throw on second and 18 for a big first down to WR Richie James. The 13-play drive culminated in a two yard shovel pass TD to standout rookie WR Brandon Aiyuk. Mullens’ first of two touchdowns put the Niners down 17-14 entering the tunnel at halftime.
Mullens took his second opportunity of the third quarter in stride, pushing 75 yards downfield on 11 plays, culminating in a Jeff Wilson Jr. rushing TD from one yard out and bringing the score to 24-all.
However, with ten and half minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the game still tied, Mullens would throw his first interception of the day, staring down Cowboys DB Donovan Wilson as he did so.
The Niners D held strong after an impressive defensive series from the secondary, forcing the Cowboys to settle for a field goal.
“I thought the defense gave us a very good chance to win,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said in his post-game interview, “except we just didn’t get any turnovers. I think that would be the only thing that could have gone differently with them. The score isn’t indicative of how they played.”
With just under three minutes left in the game, in his own inevitable fashion, Mullens again gave Dallas the ball back, under-throwing Aiyuk for his second pick of the day as his mistakes continue to mount.
“With Nick, you just coach him, try to get him to go to the right spot with the ball,” Shanahan said. “I thought there was a couple that he probably shouldn’t have attempted with where it was on the field. Nick’s done some good things, but when you turn the ball over that much it’s gonna be tough to be given opportunities.”
Two plays later, after a few missed tackles, Dallas RB Tony Pollard exploded 40 yards into the endzone to put the Cowboys up ten with time running thin.
The 49ers were able to quickly muster another three points, cutting the deficit to one score and establishing K Robbie Gould as just the 11th kicker in NFL history to reach 400 career field goals made. But Gould’s ensuing onside kick attempt bounced up easily for Dallas WR Ceedee Lamb, who returned it for a touchdown and eliminated any chance at a comeback for San Francisco.
Second backup QB CJ Beathard entered the game for Mullens, who removed himself after he lost feeling in his elbow, and connected on a Hail Mary touchdown to WR Kendrick Bourne for the final play of the game, setting the final score at 41-33.
“Once the fourth quarter came, I was going to have to make big-time plays for us to finish that game out,’ Mullens told reporters after the game. “We couldn’t just run the ball every play and go all the way down the field. I had to make some plays and I didn’t.”
Shanahan, who is facing his third losing season of four with the franchise, was extremely frustrated after the game. “We’ve dealt with a lot of crap this year, but we would have overcome it without turnovers today,” he said. “I really wanted the guys to come out and play good football and I think offensively, defensively and special teams, guys did a lot of good things. When you have four turnovers, it doesn’t matter what you do.”
Any Niners fan still holding their breath that the team would make the playoffs this year can exhale, as results around the league last night mathematically eliminated San Francisco, making them just the second Super Bowl runner-up in the last 13 seasons to finish with a losing record the following year.
Despite being played in their temporary home, the 49ers will finish the season in a true away game against the Arizona Cardinals this Saturday at 1:30 PM PST.
Top Image: Tom Pennington/Getty Images