ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Deebo Samuel and the San Francisco 49ers have started another playoff run after hanging on in a frantic wild-card finish against Dallas.
Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will have to keep waiting for that elusive deep trip in the postseason.
San Francisco’s versatile receiver ran 26 yards for a touchdown the play after an interception by Prescott, and the 49ers held on for a 23-17 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.
The Cowboys had a final chance with 32 seconds remaining and were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds to go when Prescott took off up the middle intending to slide and then spike the ball for a final play.
But Dallas didn’t get the snap off from the 24 until after the clock hit 0:00. After a brief delay, referee Alex Kemp announced the game was over.
Dallas coach Mike McCarthy suggested the Cowboys were slowed by a collision between Prescott and umpire Ramon George, and that a sideline official assured him the play was being reviewed.
“The communication that I was given on the sideline was they were reviewing it,” McCarthy said. “They were going to put time back on the clock. And the next thing I know, they’re running off the field.”
Referee Alex Kemp said in a pool report George was trailing the play at a proper distance and acted appropriately to get the ball spotted correctly. The umpire has to touch the ball before another play can happen.
Kemp said the decision that the snap came after the clock had expired was made on the field, not on a replay assist from New York.
“The umpire was simply spotting the ball properly,” Kemp said. “He collided with the players as he was setting the ball because he was moving it to the proper spot.”
The 49ers overcame an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter. Prescott ran for a touchdown to get within a score, and had a chance to drive Dallas to a go-ahead score. But the 49ers got a stop at midfield when Prescott’s desperation fourth-down pass was just out of the receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach.
After a 14th penalty from the NFL’s most-penalized team in the regular season that helped San Francisco run out most of the clock — and the frantic final seconds as Dallas tried for the win — the 49ers (11-7) clinched their first playoff victory at the Cowboys in a storied postseason rivalry.
Now they head to Green Bay for a divisional game, looking for another trip to the NFC championship game two years after losing to Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City in the Super Bowl.
“It was like the whole day, it really was,” Garoppolo said of the final sequence. “It was a dogfight, hell of an atmosphere out here. I mean, the fans were nuts. It was everything we thought it was going to be. It was fun.”
The wait for Dallas (12-6) to get that far in the playoffs will reach at least 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips over six seasons for the star quarterback. It was his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-a-year contract in the offseason.
The 49ers were in control in the fourth quarter, but not leaning on the running game they figured could carry them to a win when Garoppolo threw an interception to Anthony Brown that set up Prescott’s 7-yard scoring run.
Garoppolo’s mistake wasn’t long after Prescott was picked off at the Dallas 26 by K’Waun Williams and Samuel ran untouched on a cutback up the middle to the end zone on the next play for a 23-7 lead.
San Francisco lost star pass rusher Nick Bosa to a concussion just before halftime when he was crunched in the head and neck area by teammate D.J. Jones. But the 49ers kept enough pressure on Prescott, finishing with five sacks while holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 307 yards.
“Guys just stepping up big in big key situations, that’s really what it was all day,” Garoppolo said. “Early on, we got it rolling with the offense and the defense just throughout the entire day. We got some dogs on our defense, man. It’s fun.”
San Francisco scored on its first four possessions, but three times settled for field goals from Robbie Gould to help keep the Cowboys close.
Dallas had all three timeouts after Prescott’s desperate pass to Wilson fell incomplete.
The 49ers got a first down on the second holding penalty by a Dallas defensive lineman on a running play, and Samuel got all but a few inches needed for a first on a third-and-11 run with a minute remaining.
San Francisco planned to try to finish off the victory with a fourth-down play, but a false start penalty led to a punt instead.
The Cowboys started at their 20 with 32 seconds to go. Wilson pitched to CeeDee Lamb on a hook-and-ladder play for 20 yards, and tight end Dalton Schultz gained 9 yards before getting out of bounds with 14 seconds remaining.
When Prescott slid at the end of a 17-yard run, there were eight seconds to go. The snap didn’t beat the clock.
San Francisco rookie Elijah Mitchell ran for 96 yards and the game’s first points on a 4-yard run. Samuel had 72 yards on 10 carries and three catches for 38 yards.
As was the case most of the season, Dallas couldn’t get the running game going with Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion had 31 yards on 12 carries as the Cowboys were outgained 169-77 on the ground.
Prescott was 23 of 43 for 254 yards. Garoppolo, who doesn’t know when his last game with the 49ers will be with rookie Trey Lance waiting his turn, was 16 of 25 for 172 yards.
Gould is now the career leader for makes in the playoffs without a miss at 18. Two of his field goals were from at least 50 yards (53, 52).
Concussions almost sidelined the best pass rushers for both teams. Before Bosa was injured, standout Dallas rookie Micah Parsons was evaluated for a concussion in the first quarter. He quickly returned.
49ers: Head to Green Bay to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in the divisional round.
Cowboys: Season ends with the first wild-card loss in three playoff trips for Prescott.