NFL: Defense powers 49ers over Cowboys, into NFC title game

Brock Purdy has guided the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship Game before he has lost a single game.

The 23-year-old Purdy has been a virtual lifesaver for San Francisco, and he won his seventh consecutive start by guiding the 49ers to a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.

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Purdy was the 262nd and final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, earning him the Mr. Irrelevant tag. He was a third-stringer slated to learn the trade.

But he rapidly became relevant after Trey Lance (broken ankle) and Jimmy Garoppolo (broken foot) were lost to injuries, and he has played with poise beyond his years. He was up to the task in the divisional playoff round by completing 19 of 29 passes for 214 yards without any turnovers against the Cowboys.

“He’s only won, like, seven in a row now,” said 49ers tight end George Kittle, who had five receptions for 95 yards. “He’s playing at a high level, getting our best players the football. He’s confident in the huddle. He’s just doing a great job.

“The best part is he shows up every day. He’s humble and all he wants to do is get better.”

Christian McCaffrey rushed for the tiebreaking touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, and Robbie Gould kicked four field goals as the second-seeded 49ers won their 12th consecutive game.

San Francisco will visit the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles in next Sunday’s NFC title game. It is the 49ers’ third appearance in the past four seasons.

And Purdy will face his biggest challenge since trading in his Iowa State gear for the NFL.

“That’s what NFL football is all about, to go into a hostile environment like that,” Purdy said. “We’re excited. We’re ready for it.”

Dak Prescott was 23-of-37 passing for 206 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the Cowboys. Prescott tied for the NFL regular-season high of 15 interceptions before tacking on more miscues against the 49ers.

“You can’t have those throws in the playoffs,” Prescott said. “No excuses for that. Those two are 100 percent on me.”

In addition to the interceptions, Dallas was just 5 of 15 on third-down conversions while finding the end zone just once.

“Defensively, we did a real good job for the most part,” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. “But yeah, would we like to have a couple more stops? Yes. Did we need more third-down conversions on offense? Yes, we could have used the red-zone production.

“Obviously, this is extremely disappointing. This has been an incredible journey with this group of men, and we came up short tonight to a very good football team.”

CeeDee Lamb had 10 receptions for 117 yards for the fifth-seeded Cowboys.

Dallas lost running back Tony Pollard to a fractured fibula in his left leg late in the second quarter. He was carted off the field.

Deommodore Lenoir and Fred Warner had the interceptions for San Francisco.

The 49ers outgained the Cowboys 312 to 282, including a 113-76 edge on the ground.

“We stopped the run, which was huge, and that allowed us to be sound in our coverages,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I just think we made them work for everything.”

McCaffrey’s 2-yard touchdown run capped a 10-play, 91-yard drive and gave the 49ers a 16-9 lead.

Brett Maher booted a 43-yard field goal to move the Cowboys within four with 11:03 to play.

Gould kicked a 28-yard field goal with 3:04 remaining to restore the seven-point advantage.

Dallas was unable to threaten on its final drive before time ran out on its season.

“It hurts. Very disappointed,” Prescott said of the loss. “For us to put up the points we did, that’s unacceptable. That’s on me. I’ve got to be better. There’s no way to sugarcoat that.”

Gould kicked three first-half goals to give San Francisco a 9-6 halftime lead.

Lenoir’s interception of Prescott set up Gould’s 26-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the opening quarter.

Dallas took a 6-3 lead on Prescott’s 4-yard pass to Dalton Schultz with 9:25 remaining in the second quarter. San Francisco’s Samson Ebukam used his left hand to block Maher’s extra point, the kicker’s fifth such miss this postseason, one shy of the career playoff record held by Roy Gerela (1969-79).

Gould booted a 47-yard field goal to tie the score with 3:43 left. Warner intercepted Prescott at the 49ers 12 with 1:15 left, and San Francisco took advantage with Gould’s 50-yard kick as time expired in the half.

Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled on a punt return early in the third quarter and Dallas’ Damone Clark recovered at the San Francisco 21. The Cowboys cashed in when Maher sent a 25-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights to tie it at 9 with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

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