SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP)Two more interceptions from Dak Prescott. Another missed extra point by Brett Maher. Some bizarre play-calling at the end of the game.
It all added up to another playoff exit for the Dallas Cowboys and more questions about what needs to be done to get them over the hump.
Prescott had two turnovers and led only one touchdown drive and the Cowboys fell short of the NFC title game for the 12th straight postseason trip, losing 19-12 to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round on Sunday.
”I felt we were in a good situation to come in here and win this thing,” owner Jerry Jones said. ”Frankly, I wouldn’t say surprised, I would say just real disappointed that we maybe couldn’t make something happen.”
A franchise that won three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span early in Jones’ tenure is now known mostly for playoff flops.
And now there will be speculation about the job security of coach Mike McCarthy, who has won one playoff game in three seasons – last week over Tampa Bay.
Jones said the loss didn’t change his opinion on McCarthy, but he was clearly frustrated by another early ending.
”This is very sickening,” he said.
The Cowboys (13-6) haven’t made it even as far as the conference championship game since winning the Super Bowl following the 1995 season, losing seven times in the divisional round and five times in the wild-card round. Only five other teams haven’t gotten to a conference title game since then.
They had their chances to get that far Sunday thanks to a strong defensive performance but got knocked out by the rival 49ers for the second straight season.
”Just disappointment,” Prescott said. ”Defense gave us an opportunity to win this game. They played hard against a really, really good offense, a really good team. For us to only put up the points that we did, that’s unacceptable. It starts with me. I’ve got to be better. There’s no other way to sugarcoat it.”
An early interception by Prescott set up a field goal by San Francisco.
The Cowboys then put together their only TD drive of the game with Prescott connecting with Dalton Schultz on a 4-yard score. But Maher had his extra-point attempt blocked after missing a record four last week in a win at Tampa Bay.
Prescott then threw another interception – his 13th in the last nine games – to turn a potential scoring drive at the end of the half into a field goal that gave San Francisco a 9-6 lead at the break.
”I can’t put the ball in jeopardy like that, whether they’re tipped up in tight throws or whether I’m late on a stop route,” Prescott said. ”Just can’t happen. The number that it’s gotten to is ridiculous. I can promise that the number will never be this again. I can promise that.”
The Cowboys then failed to capitalize on two big special teams plays, settling for field goals following a fumbled punt by Ray-Ray McCloud and a long kickoff return by KaVontae Turpin.
That left them in a desperate situation late when they took over at their own 18 with 2:59 remaining, trailing 19-12.
Prescott threw two straight incompletions and was sacked on third down. McCarthy opted to punt on fourth-and-10 with all three timeouts left.
The Cowboys got the ball back at their 6 with 45 seconds left but could only move the ball to the 24 before an odd final play that started with running back Ezekiel Elliott snapping the ball to Prescott and ended immediately before the planned laterals when Jimmie Ward tackled Turpin after a short pass.
A fitting end to another unfulfilling season.
”Factually, we’ve taken one step closer to our goal,” McCarthy said. ”That’s what the comparable would be from last year to this year.”
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