Next play: interception, which the 49ers converted into a field goal and a 9-6 halftime lead.
There is no overstating how much Prescott and the Cowboys missed Pollard. He is the Cowboys’ most explosive player, dangerous as both a runner and a receiver, with a quickness as well as long speed. It was painful in his absence to see Ezekiel Elliott fail to get through openings because he lacks the burst that Pollard possesses. It is not his fault. As they say, Father Time is undefeated. But the Cowboys could not help but wonder what might have been.
Purdy, who finished 19 of 29 for 214 yards, was also was off his game, failing to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in seven starts. But the four-year starter from Iowa State kept the ball out of harm’s way. That was huge because coaches love to say how more games are lost more than won, and with the San Francisco defense being stingy and opportunistic, the 49ers needed only a handful of plays to lock up the win.
One came late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 9. Purdy spotted tight end George Kittle in the right seam and zipped a pass into the opening. Kittle reached out with one hand, deflected the ball off his facemask while in full stride, then reached out with both hands to pull it in for a 30-yard gain that eventually led to the decisive score — a 2-yard touchdown run by Christian McCaffrey.
“I’ve seen George make some crazy plays through his career, but that was probably one of the craziest,” said defensive lineman Arik Armstead. “That definitely got us going.”
Safety Tashaun Gipson was equally impressed with the teammate who delivered the pass, and his perseverance under tough circumstances.
“That’s just a testament to him as a player,” he said of Purdy. “Take your hat off to the Cowboys, that’s a great defense. For him to go out there and still perform enough for us to get this win, that just tells you about a guy like him. I’m happy he’s on my team. The moment is never too big for him.”
It is not a stretch to say we learned more about Purdy on Sunday than we did in his first postseason start last week against Seattle, when he threw for a personal-best 332 yards and three touchdowns with another score on the ground. Things just flowed in that game. Against the Cowboys, it was a challenge from start to end.
At times, he appeared to feel the pressure before it arrived, and when he was able to get outside the pocket, his passes were uncharacteristically off target. For a moment, it was hard not to wonder if the moment had caught up to him, but that would be minimizing the speed and physicality of the Dallas defense.
Purdy has been so good for so long, relatively speaking, that you tended to forget he was the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft. But he has shown in his small sample size that he is the team’s best quarterback by a wide margin, even when everyone is healthy.
That bodes well for the franchise’s long-term future, not to mention its upcoming game against the Eagles. Purdy doesn’t have to be great, just good enough, like against Dallas.