What we learned as 49ers advance to NFC Championship Game


SANTA CLARA — For the third time in four seasons, coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are heading to the NFC Championship Game.

Kicker Robbie Gould made four field goals, the defense showed its top-ranked form and Brock Purdy did just enough for the 49ers to survive the upset-minded Dallas Cowboys, stretching their win streak to 12 games with a hard-fought 19-12 victory over their bitter rival on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers will travel to meet the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles at 12 p.m. PT next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles advanced with a 38-7 victory over the New York Giants on Saturday.

Here are three takeaways from the 49ers' dramatic win:

Settling for Gould

The Cowboys had their continued issues with kicker Brett Maher, whose first extra-point attempt of the game was blocked.

The 49ers’ issue with their kicker is that they used Gould too much. Gould was 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts to remain perfect in his postseason career.

When 49ers defender Samson Ebukam blocked Maher’s PAT in the second quarter, it was his sixth missed extra point in his previous seven attempts.

In setting up Maher for another failure, the Cowboys at least got into the end zone in the first half on Dak Prescott’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Schultz.

The 49ers could not cash either of Prescott’s two first-half interceptions into touchdowns, instead settling for Gould’s field goals of 26, 47 and 50 yards.

Gould’s final field goal of the half came after 49ers All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner picked off Prescott at the 12-yard line and returned it to the San Francisco 28 with 1:15 remaining in the first half.

The 49ers moved 40 yards on eight plays to place Gould in range for his field goal, which came as time expired in the first half for a 9-6 lead.

In the first quarter, 49ers cornerback Deommodore Lenoir intercepted Prescott. The 49ers settled for a field goal.

Gould gave the 49ers a seven-point lead, 19-12, with a 28-yard field goal with 3:04 remaining in regulation.

Tough-sledding vs. aggressive Dallas D

The high-powered 49ers’ offense of the second half of the season met its match, as Dallas set the tone with a fast and aggressive defensive effort that bottled up San Francisco's run game and prevented Purdy from getting the ball in space to his playmakers.

Purdy completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for 214 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.

Running back Christian McCaffrey, a huge midseason acquisition, had mostly a quiet game with 35 yards on 10 carries, though the 49ers finally got into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter on McCaffrey’s 2-yard touchdown up the middle.

The play capped a 10-play, 91-yard scoring drive that lasted six minutes and gave the 49ers a 16-9 lead with 14:58 remaining in regulation.

The next drive was impressive, though it did not finish in the end zone.

The 49ers used up 7 minutes, 59 seconds on their 13-play, 64-yard drive. Gould kicked a 28-yard field goal for a 19-12 lead with 3:04 remaining in the fourth quarter.

49ers defense comes through

With the offense sputtering, the 49ers had to again turn to their defense — as was often the case during the first half of the season.

The 49ers’ defense generated takeaways on interceptions by Lenoir and Warner, which produced two field goals.

The Cowboys lost their most-productive running back in the first half when Tony Pollard sustained an ankle injury when his lower leg got pinned under 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward.

Pollard was carted from the Cowboy sideline to the X-ray room near the 49ers’ locker room. The Cowboys announced a short time later that he would not be able to return to action.

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Pollard had 22 yards rushing on six carries before he exited the game with the injury.

Coach Mike McCarthy opted to decide to punt back to the 49ers with 2:59 remaining in regulation. The Cowboys got it back with :45 remaining at the 49ers’ 6-yard line.

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