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BULLIED: 49ers 23, Cowboys 17, Top 10 Whitty Observations

On a frantic, frustrating day ultimately doomed by 14 penalties and an inexplicable ending, the Cowboys' second-half rally proved too little, too late

Sun through the windows in the end zone. A scoreboard hanging low over the stadium. But, mostly, yellow flags all over the AT&T Stadium field. Oh, and 10 observations about a 23-17 loss ...

10. EXCRUCIATING ENDING - On Dallas' final, futile drive, why did Dak Prescott run with only 14 seconds remaining and no timeouts remaining? ... And why oh why did the umpire - say his name with me, Ramon George - bump into Prescott and center Tyler Biadasz, briefly stumble, clumsily move the ball back a yard like he was playing checkers and, ultimately, let the time expire? George literally had to "sprint" 26 yards into position over the ball before Dallas could legally snap it.

The NFL is somehow okay with a team's playoff fate being determined by how fast one of its part-time officials can run? Scoring on one play from the 24-yard line to win the game is unlikely. But because of George's clown show, we'll never know. 

Said referee Alex Kemp, "That's the end of the game." But it's only the beginning of a week of questions and an offseason of misery.

9. SIDELINE "REPORTING"? - Only thing worse than the Cowboys' early performance was CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. 

A good 10 minutes after everyone at the stadium and on her own TV network saw linebacker Micah Parsons leave the field after an accidental head-to-head collision (concussion?), Wolfson breathlessly reported - make that speculated - that Parsons was on the sideline because he had recently been in COVID protocol and might be suffering from fatigue. 

Said Wolfson, " ... You wonder if the stamina is a little bit of an issue." 

What the what?!

8. EARLY BIRD GETS THE ... LEAD - Last two times they've played the 49ers in the playoffs the Cowboys have fallen into early holes of 21-0 (1995) and 13-0 (Sunday). Too big of a deficit against a team that proved too good. Again.

7. UNIFORM VIOLATION - Leighton Vander Esch is in fourth season playing linebacker for the Cowboys. Sunday was a playoff game. Misspelling his name on his jersey is amateurish. Inexcusable. Embarrassing.

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6. SOUR GRAPES? - After the game, some Dallas players once again blamed the refs. "Bias'' is the word rookie Micah Parsons used.

We can make a "clown'' observation about a ref's work. But a ref's work isn't why Dallas lost. Not solely, anyway.

5. SUN-DRICK WILSON - The Cowboys were driving to make it a game at the end of the second quarter when the construction of AT&T Stadium intervened. Trailing 16-7, Dallas had a 3rd and 19 near midfield when Prescott fired a pass over the middle to Cedrick Wilson at San Francisco's 30. Catch it and the Cowboys' Greg Zuerlein could kick a long field goal to pull his team within six at half. Instead, Wilson totally lost the ball in the sun, with it caroming off his helmet.

4. HOME COOKING? - The league's highest-scoring offense did not hold up its end of the bargain with only 17 points. The Cowboys finished 5-4 in Arlington; 0-4 when not scoring at least 33 points.

3. FAKED OUT - Down 23-7 early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys pulled off a fake punt that seemed to have shifted momentum. 

But, hello again, Umpire George! 

After Bryan Anger's pass to C.J. Goodwin converted a fourth down at San Francisco's 36, the Cowboys kept their punt team on the field - with Noah Brown at Wildcat and the punter in the slot - in an attempt to draw a penalty on the 49ers or force them to burn a timeout. (Same trick, by the way, the Cardinals used successfully in their upset of Dallas in Week 17.) Midway through the play clock, however, Dallas changed its mind and ran the offense on the field. But when the Cowboys were ready to snap the ball, George stood over it and prevented the play.

The ensuing delay-of-game penalty ultimately forced Dallas to kick a field goal. Momentum, paused. Rarely does an Umpire hold up a play into a penalty. Even more rare when he holds up another to end the game.

2. REPEAT DO-OVER? - Anger hit the bottom of the 60-yard-long Jumbo Jerry scoreboard with a punt, prompting a replay of fourth down. Can the Cowboys challenge for a "do-over" for the entire game? They led the league with 127 penalties during the regular season and on Sunday were called for a franchise playoff-record 14. In the fourth quarter alone, Dallas' defensive line was called for an illegal hands to the face and two holding penalties.

1. MEN AMONGST 'BOYS - As many experts feared, San Francisco came to Arlington and bullied the Cowboys. 

The 49ers rushed for 169 yards and held Dallas to 77. Obviously, lots more went into this wacky outcome. But in their last two playoff games - both losses - the Cowboys have been gashed for a total of  442 rushing yards: 169 to the Niners Sunday and 273 to the Los Angeles Rams in 2019.

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