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The Biggest Reason the Cowboys Lost Wasn't the Final Play Call or the Refs

The Cowboys lost at home to the 49ers on Sunday, 23–17, in the latest of the franchise's long string of postseason struggles in the decades following its 1990s dynasty. But what happened in the waning seconds of Sunday's defeat was far from the only reason the Cowboys' season ended.

San Francisco led Dallas 23–7 into the fourth quarter, when the team allowed Dak Prescott and the Cowboys back into the game.

After jumping out to a 23–7 lead early in the fourth quarter, a Greg Zuerlein field goal and Jimmy Garoppolo interception, which set up a rushing touchdown by Prescott, cut the lead to 23–17. 

What happened from there has already been well-documented.

With just 14 seconds on the clock and Dallas driving, Prescott ran a quarterback draw to San Francisco's 24-yard line. He never handed the ball to the referee, who, by rule, must touch and spot the ball before every play. The umpire struggled to get into position to do so, and Prescott ran out of time to spike the ball and set up one final shot at the end zone.

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Depending on one's perspective, it's easy to blame the Cowboys' play call, or the officials' failure to get into position at a critical juncture, for the team's loss. However, the Cowboys have far more to point to throughout the game as to why they lost. Among other reasons, the team was penalized 14 times for 89 yards.

As noted by The Ringer's Danny Heifetz, seven of the 14 penalties either killed Dallas' drive, or kept San Francisco's alive.

The final drive will get most of the attention as fans and media members continue to dissect this game, but the Cowboys' more conventional failures throughout its first 59 minutes deserve plenty of scrutiny as well.

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