GAME RECAP – Dallas Cowboys fall to visiting San Francisco 49ers, 28-17
A fumble, an interception, untimely penalties, poor play selection and 21 points surrendered.
And that was just the first quarter.
Coming into this season-opening game against San Francisco, a 28-17 loss in front of 91,174 fans, the Cowboys knew defending the 49ers’ vaunted offense would be a difficult task. What they didn’t expect was their own offense, and namely quarterback Tony Romo, being the main culprit in what would become the team’s first loss of the year.
Romo threw three interceptions in the first half alone, two of which eventually resulted in 49ers touchdowns with the third coming in the end zone when Romo missed a wide open Dwayne Harris and instead opted to throw to a well-covered Jason Witten.
He finished the day with 281 yards passing, completing 23-of-37 attempts with one touchdown, although 182 of those yards came in the second half when the game was already well out of hand. Three different receivers caught four passes for the team, as Dez Bryant topped the club with 55 receiving yards.
There was also questionable play-calling in the early going, although whether that was coming from the sideline and new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan or being changed at the line by Romo is uncertain.
Case in point came early in the first quarter, with Dallas already down 7-0 after 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver scooped up a DeMarco Murray fumble and took it back 35 yards for the score within the first minute of the game. The Cowboys had then worked their way down to the San Francisco 2-yard line, but there, despite three first-round picks on the offensive line and a 1,00-yard rusher in their backfield, the Cowboys opted to then do nothing but pass.
On one play, Romo even appeared to pull back an intended handoff to Murray to instead throw the ball, the result a 9-yard sack that left Murray fuming as he walked to the sidelines. That caused the Cowboys to settle for a 29-yard field goal from the sure-footed Dan Bailey to get on the board.
Overall, the Cowboys offense snapped the ball 13 times inside the 49ers’ red zone during the game, including six times within 5 yards of the goal line, and only once did they attempt a running play. That, of course, was a 2-yard dive by Murray in the third quarter for the team’s first touchdown.
Which is all the more curious considering that Murray had 95 yards on 16 carries in the first half alone, an impressive 5.9 yards-per-carry average. With the Cowboys having to abandon the run for the most part over the final two quarters – they didn’t even attempt a run in the fourth frame – Murray would finish the game with 118 yards on 22 carries, the eighth time in his career he has topped the 100-yard mark.
On the other side of the ball, the beleaguered Dallas defense actually put up a valiant fight. The team’s makeshift front line was able to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick, holding the 49ers quarterback to just 201 yards on 16-of-23 passing. Overall, the Cowboys had more total yards than San Francisco (382 to 31), more first downs (26 to 19) and fewer penalties (10/72 to 11/80).
But the 49ers quarterback, who is as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm, used both to push his team down the field in the first half. Such was the case on San Francisco’s second score when he avoided the rush and then found tight end Vernon Davis wide open in the end zone, Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox having left his man to close on Kaepernick.
Down by 18, the Cowboys defense then got a healthy dose of the 49ers running game, featuring Frank Gore, and seemed ready to roll over, especially after San Francisco held possession for 10:23 in the second quarter and added another score thanks to a 9-play, 64-yard drive to go into the half with an insurmountable 28-3 lead.
But, the defense didn’t back down and kept the 49ers scoreless in the second half. They held up their end of the bargain.
Having not done their part thus far, the Dallas offense did manage to give the home fans a reason to cheer after the break, thanks in part to a pass that Romo basically threw up for grabs, but Harris was able to come down with for a 56-yard pass completion down to the 49ers 11. That eventually resulted in the 2-yard score from Murray on fourth-and-1, this after three previous pass attempts.
Romo and Co. then closed out the game with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that resulted in another touchdown, this time a 2-yard pass to Terrance Williams, but it was too little too late, the Cowboys falling to 0-1 on the season, 28-17.
The Dallas Cowboys now play consecutive games on the road, traveling to Tennessee (1-0) for a noon game next week before then heading to St. Louis (0-1). Their next home outing will take place on Sept. 28 against New Orleans (0-1).
INSTANT REVIEW – Analysis immediately after 28-17 loss
ARLINGTON, Texas – Instant reactions and analysis following the Dallas Cowboys 28-17 loss to the 49ers at AT&T Stadium in the opener.
Eatman: Again, just like before the game, it seems just as difficult to assess afterwards. Yeah, the 49ers were undoubtedly the better team and we probably knew that coming in. You don’t get to the NFC Championship three straight times by accident and even though their preseason was below par, they turned it on when it counted. This game comes down to a three or four plays that went against the Cowboys early on. It’s 28-3 at the half when it probably could’ve been 17-14 or better for the Cowboys.
But that’s the difference between good teams and average teams. The good teams find a way to make it 28-3 when it falls in their lap. I guess Bruce Carter played Ok, but it wasn’t good enough. And I couldn’t have been more of on Witten. This gut feeling turned out about like the Cowboys’ offensive plans for Week 1.
Kavner: I don’t think anyone expected this kind of a rout. I thought if that was going to happen, it would be a result of the ground game. Turns out, the 49ers scored 21 points before ever needing a rushing play. By the end of the first quarter, the 49ers led, 21-3, Colin Kaepernick was 4-for-4 for 75 yards and a touchdown, the Cowboys had committed two of their four turnovers and no San Francisco player had run the ball once. The one bright side for the Cowboys was the play of their linebackers. Rolando McClain did have a couple of those “woah” plays, but my prediction of a Lance Dunbar touchdown came a couple yards short. It all ended in an 11-point loss, but it was never a close one in Dallas.
Broaddus: I wasn’t one bit surprised by the way that Cole Beasley was able to play against the 49ers today. In studying their games this week, he was going to be a matchup problem for them. He is such an elusive receiver when coming out of the slot because he can take his route anywhere he wants to go on the field. He was targeted five times and ended up with four receptions. I felt like he should have been 5-for-5 if Romo didn’t miss him on a 3rd down crossing route when he threw the ball too high.
On the route he drove hard up the field from the left slot and was able to create some separation inside. It’s a shame that he was not rewarded after executing that route because it would have been able to keep the drive going instead of punting.
Helman: I said before the game I thought the 49ers would win a “wild one,” and I guess I was right. This game was definitely pretty crazy, but it wasn’t the back-and-forth shootout I was expecting – more like a comedy of errors. Four turnovers in the first half and several miscues in the redzone told the story, and it didn’t even wind up mattering that the defense played surprisingly well. The 49ers didn’t score in the second half, which I suppose is a positive, but they also didn’t need to as they held a 25-point lead at the break. The Cowboys actually cranked out 382 yards of offense – including 127 on the ground – but it doesn’t matter much if your turnover margin is minus-four.
Here were the first gut feelings for the regular season opener posted before the game Saturday afternoon …
Eatman: Well, it’s finally here. How is it that I haven’t seen one practice from the 49ers and I know what to expect from them. But the Cowboys, a team I’ve seen every minute of practice in OTAs, minicamp and training camp and the four preseason games and yet I have no clue what they’re going to do. There are some negative vibes about this team and it stems from defense. I think we’re going to be surprised how well they play. It doesn’t mean it will be good enough but Rod Marinelli’s defenses don’t get smashed around that often. He will have a good plan for this game. Bruce Carter is going to play well and will come up with a key turnover. On offense, I’m predicting at least eight catches from Jason Witten, who takes advantage of the way the 49ers cover Dez. I really can see either team winning this game but my gut keeps drifting towards the visitors.
Kavner: At first, everyone had written the Cowboys off for this opener. Then, they became a popular upset pick, particularly with the key injuries to the 49ers. All the focus will be on this defense, and until they show differently, it’s hard to expect a drastic change from last year’s group. The 49ers rushing attack, including what Colin Kaepernick can do with his legs, may be too much. Dan Bailey makes three field goals, Lance Dunbar finally bursts onto the scene and gets his first career touchdown, J.J. Wilcox makes a big momentum-shifting play – possibly his first career interception (finally not called back) – and Rolando McClain has two “woah” hits. But the 49ers are the only team to reach 30 points, pulling out the opener by a touchdown.
Broaddus: Of all the weapons on this Cowboys offense that Scott Linehan can use, Cole Beasley will be the one that shines the brightest against the 49ers. In preparing for this game, my gut feeling is that it could very well come down to how well the Cowboys convert on third down opportunities to keep drives alive. Beasley is one of the best when it comes down to finding that open space in the secondary and making a secure catch. He will be matched up against the talented but inexperienced Jimmie Ward out of the slot and I fully expect to see Tony Romo take advantage of that situation.
Helman: The one positive about a defense with this many unknowns is that we truly don’t know 100 percent what to expect when the Cowboys take the field for Week 1. We should finally get a look at guys like Henry Melton and Morris Claiborne, who missed the preseason, and Rolando McClain, who appears to be ready for a full game. Maybe they’ll surprise us all. That said, I’ve seen enough of the defense’s struggles in training camp and the preseason to feel pretty pessimistic. I think Colin Kaepernick is going to have a strong day running the ball, and either Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis – or maybe both – will excel, as well. The Cowboys offense should have success against a 49er defense that isn’t at full strength, but I still think San Francisco is more capable of making stops than Dallas. The Niners win a wild one, something like 31-27.
RELATED POSTGAME VIDEOS …
Highs & Lows Of Tony Romo’s Game Against SF | The San Francisco 49ers defense created multiple turnovers off of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who threw three interceptions by the first half. (Watch | No Audio)
FOX HIGHLIGHTS: 49ers vs. Cowboys | San Francisco 49ers capitalized on a total of 4 Dallas Cowboys turnovers to beat the team 28-17. (Watch | No Audio)