49ers-Cowboys: Tale of the tape for Sunday’s NFL playoff rematch

49ers-Cowboys: Tale of the tape for Sunday’s NFL playoff rematch

SANTA CLARA — Make way for the ninth playoff battle between the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.

Time now for Brock Purdy and Dak Prescott to join the pantheon of quarterback duels in this epic, postseason rivalry.

Come Sunday at 3:30 p.m. in a divisional-round game at Levi’s Stadium, they’ll follow such matchups as John Brodie vs. Roger Staubach (and Craig Morton), Joe Montana vs. Danny White, Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman, and, as recently as last January, Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Prescott.

Defenses will have their say, of course. They’ll have the ultimate say, and they’re enjoying stellar seasons. Dallas’ Micah Parsons leads the way for America’s Team, and Nick Bosa keys, shall we say, Great America’s Team (in a nod to the 49ers’ neighboring, amusement park).

Quarterbacks. Pass rushers. Legacies. Winner advances to next the NFC Championship Game, to keep alive a generational pursuit of a sixth Lombardi Trophy, and that goes for either the 49ers or Cowboys.

Sure, their playoff history is rich, but how do their current editions compare? Here is the tale of the tape:


Cowboys: Prescott infamously ended last season’s playoff loss at Dallas by scrambling and sliding in the final precious seconds against the 49ers, who won 23-17. His rushing (and bootleg) ability resulted in a fourth-and-goal touchdown in Monday’s playoff return, a 31-14 win over Tampa Bay. This season, he tied for the NFL-high with 15 interceptions, including at least one in seven straight games entering the playoffs. After fracturing his right thumb in their opener, Prescott had a five-game hiatus, and questions about his accuracy have followed in his comeback.

49ers: Purdy’s seventh career start comes amid his deification, which grows week by week, win by win. In beating the Seahawks 41-23 in Saturday’s playoff debut, Purdy became the first rookie quarterback in an NFL playoff game to produce four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). Purdy’s completion percentage (67.1) tied with Patrick Mahomes for seventh-best in the regular season, just behind Purdy’s injured predecessor, Jimmy Garoppolo (67.2).


Cowboys: A tremendous tandem exists with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, with the latter having made the Pro Bowl. They combined for 1,831 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground in the regular season. Elliott hasn’t had a 100-yard game since October 2021, and his average of 3.8 yards per carry was the lowest of his seven-year career. In last year’s playoff loss, he had just 31 yards (12 carries), and Pollard just 14 yards (four carries).

49ers: Christian McCaffrey has been a godsend to the 49ers’ offense, and while his receiving ability is unmatched among NFL running backs, he’s run for over 100 yards in four of the past six games. The 49ers can spell him with Deebo Samuel, Elijah Mitchell, and, perhaps rookie Jordan Mason. Samuel’s 26-yard touchdown run seized control for the 49ers’ in last year’s playoff win at Dallas, and he finished 72 yards (10 carries) while Mitchell had 96 (27 carries). Mitchell had just 2 yards (nine carries) on Saturday, and Samuel had 32 yards (three carries).


Cowboys: They’ve got a Pro Bowler in CeeDee Lamb (107 catches, 1,359 yards, nine touchdowns). Limited by the 49ers to one catch on five targets in last year’s playoff debut, Lamb couldn’t catch Prescott’s first two passes Monday night (then T.Y. Hilton dropped the third to spoil the opening series.) Tight end Dalton Schultz had two touchdown catches in Monday’s first half, and he was their leading receiver (seven catches, 89 yards) against the 49ers in last year’s playoffs. Michael Gallop and Noah Brown are other options, as are the running backs.

49ers: Samuel, on the eve of his 27th birthday, tallied 133 yards Saturday that were the 49ers’ most in a playoff game since 2014 (Anquan Boldin, 136 at Carolina). All of Brandon Aiyuk’s 73 yards Saturday came in the first half, and he dropped a potential fourth touchdown pass by Purdy, but Aiyuk’s first 1,000-yard season has been the aerial complement needed for this offense. George Kittle caught his only two targets Saturday (37 yards), but he’s been a fabulous target for Purdy, including on improvised plays. Of Kittle’s career-high 11 touchdowns, seven came in the four games entering the playoffs. No. 3 receiver Jauan Jennings is battling an ankle issue, and Ray-Ray McCloud lurks as a speedy option from the slot.


Cowboys: Right guard Zack Martin is an All-Pro and Pro Bowler. Left tackle Jason Peters tapped out with a hip injury just before halftime Monday night, and Tyler Smith replaced him, rather than immediately shift Tyron Smith back over from right tackle. Center Tyler Biadasz is battling through a recent high-ankle sprain.

49ers: Preseason concerns have been replaced by strong confidence in this cohesive unit. The 49ers boast the NFL’s best lineman in left tackle Trent Williams, who’s flanked to his right by Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Spencer Burford and Mike McGlinchey. Burford has rotated with Daniel Brunskill most of the season, and that’s yielded mixed results.


Cowboys:  Parsons entered Monday night’s game with the league’s best pass-rush win rate (29.8 percent) He opened the playoffs with a tackle-for-loss on his first snap, but he limped into the locker room at halftime, so he might not be at full strength Sunday. Demarcus Lawrence is a ninth-year veteran with 49 ½ career sacks. Keep an eye on the interior for Osa Odighizuwa and Johnathan Hankins, the latter of whom just came off injured reserve.

49ers: Bosa runs this show, as evident by his league-leading 18 ½ sacks and 48 hits. But he had neither sacks nor quarterback hits in the playoff opener, so that showed just fierce the rest of the defensive front. Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens and T.Y. McGill are stout on the interior. The versatile Charles Omenihu had two sacks in the opener, including the play of the game with a strip sack. Samson Ebukam (ankle) and Jordan Willis round out the rotation unless Drake Jackson gets activated for pass-rush help.


Cowboys: Leighton Vander Esch has returned from a neck injury to patrol the middle of their defense. Anthony Barr has the veteran experience to snuff out screen passes. Parsons is technically a linebacker but he’s best used as an edge rusher.

49ers: The NFL’s best unit is led by All-Pro Fred Warner both as a tackler and vocal leader. Dre Greenlaw has been a more electric play-maker with his speed, range and guts (see: asking Tom Brady to autograph the football he intercepted last month). Greenlaw had 11 tackles in the playoff opener, Warner had six and Azeez Al-Shaair three.


Cowboys: Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs gambles but, “I love the kid and he makes plays,” former Cowboys and 49ers cornerback Deion Sanders said on ESPN’s “ManningCast” Monday night. “If you continually play with him, he’s going to get you sooner or later.” DaRon Bland gave up a 30-yard touchdown catch as Monday’s third quarter ended. Jayron Kearse made an end zone interception Monday night, but he hurt his left knee late in the third quarter. Fellow safeties Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker are potential play makers.

49ers: Charvarius Ward has been the 49ers’ best cornerback since Richard Sherman in 2019, although Ward struggled Saturday and in their last loss three months ago to Kansas City. Deommodore Lenoir’s interception in his playoff debut likely won’t stop him from being targeted but his confidence hasn’t wavered all season. At safety, the 49ers have an All-Pro and Pro Bowler in Talanoa Hufanga, while Tashaun Gipson Sr. has been a tremendous complement all season. The further the 49ers go, the better return that Jimmie Ward might get in his contract year.


Cowboys: Brett Maher missed four point-after kicks Monday night, so that position is a glaring concern for Dallas. KaVontae Turpin is a Pro Bowl return specialist. Punter Bryan Anger, a Cal product, had a 42.8 net average in his 11th season.

49ers: Robbie Gould has been historically automatic in 14 career playoff games, making all 25 of his field-goal attempts and 37 point-after kicks. The 40-year-old kicker feels stronger than his younger days and that shows on touchbacks as a kickoff specialist. Mitch Wishnowsky only punted once Saturday, a 57-yard gem. Ray-Ray McCloud has been sure-handed and on the verge of busting a big return.


Cowboys: Mike McCarthy, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 2005, is 0-3 against them in the playoffs as a head coach. That includes two meetings as the Packers’ coach before he took over the Cowboys in 2020. McCarthy’s produced back-to-back 12-5 seasons. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is to interview Friday for the Denver Broncos’ post; he got his NFL start as a 49ers assistant in 2001-04 and eventually went 43-42 as coach of the Atlanta Falcons, whom he took to the 2016 season’s Super Bowl with Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator.

49ers: Shanahan’s sixth season has been his best with the 49ers, seeing how they’re on an 11-game win streak and on their third quarterback. Shanahan’s offensive wit is also showing through with McCaffrey joining the air-and-ground assets. DeMeco Ryans, in his second year as defensive coordinator, oversees the NFL’s stingiest unit and that’s set him up for head-coaching interviews this week with the Broncos and Houston Texans, with the Arizona Cardinals and the Indianapolis Colts also requesting a shot.


Cowboys: All due respect to “The Catch” Dwight Clark made to launch the 49ers’ dynasty in the January 1982 NFC Final, the Cowboys’ playoff history includes wins in the Bay Area. Monday marked the Cowboys’ first road playoff win since January 1993 at Candlestick Park; they’ve also beaten the host 49ers in the 1970 and ’72 playoffs.

49ers: Levi’s Stadium is offering its best home-field advantage yet in nine seasons. The 49ers have won 13 of their past 14 appearances, although that followed a calendar year between home wins.


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