Does the old saying “Defense wins championships” still apply in today’s NFL?
The San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys are in the middle of a defensive showdown in their NFC divisional round matchup, with the Niners holding a 9-6 lead at halftime.
It was the top-ranked San Francisco defense that helped open the scoring on Sunday. Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir intercepted Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, who led the league in interceptions this season, to give the 49ers possession at the Dallas 21-yard line.
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Brock Purdy, the 49ers rookie quarterback picked last in April’s draft, then connected with Brandon Aiyuk for a 17-yard gain on third-and-16 to advance the ball to the Dallas 10-yard line. That set up Robbie Gould’s 26-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 3-0 lead with 2:12 left in the first quarter.
The Cowboys - coming off last week’s nightmare performance by kicker Brett Maher, who missed his first four extra-point attempts in the Cowboys' wild card win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the San Francisco 19-yard line on their next possession. CeeDee Lamb spun his way for a first down, gaining four yards to extend the drive.
Prescott then rushed for an 11-yard gain before connecting with Dalton Schultz for a four-yard touchdown pass to give the Cowboys a 6-3 lead with 9:25 left in the half.
The extra-point attempt by Maher was then blocked, though replay showed his kick was likely to sail wide left.
Gould capped the next San Francisco drive with a 47-yard field goal with 3:43 remaining to even the score at 6-6.
Facing fourth-and-4 from the San Francisco 35-yard line, the Cowboys went for it rather than allow Maher to attempt the field goal. Prescott scrambled for a nine-yard gain for the first down, but on the next play tipped by Jimmie Ward and intercepted by Fred Warner to give the 49ers possession at their own 28-yard line with 1:24 to go.
Purdy then threw a 21-yard completion to Jauan Jennings, who got out of bounds at the Dallas 32-yard line to stop the clock with 12 seconds left for the 49ers, who were without a timeout. Gould then hit a 50-yard field goal as time expired to send the 49ers into the break with a 9-6 lead.
Purdy completed 12 of 19 passes for 129 yards in the first half.
Prescott went 12-for-16 for 81 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Tony Pollard had six carries for 22 yards before leaving the game late in the second quarter with an injury.
It's the ninth time the 49ers and Cowboys have met in the playoffs, tying the NFL record shared by the 49ers and Packers and Cowboys and Rams. The Cowboys have won five of the last eight meetings with the 49ers, but San Francisco has won the last two, including a 23-17 victory in last season's wild card game.
The winner of Sunday's game advances to play the top-seeded Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.
The Cowboys, who have lost their last six divisional round games, are looking to advance to their first NFC Championship game since their last Super Bowl championship season in 1995.
The 49ers - who have won 11 straight games, including 6-0 under Purdy - are seeking their third title game appearance in the last four years. San Francisco is looking to win its first Super Bowl since 1994.