SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers were the victim of several instances of misfortune on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Poorly timed penalties and injuries sunk the 49ers as they lost to Dallas, 24-17. What made it so painful for the Faithful: San Francisco resembled an able NFL team early in the contest.
The team struck on its first drive of the game, culminating a nine-play drive with a 33-yard touchdown to Jeremy Kerley, who was wide open due to a blown coverage.
On the 49ers’ next drive, running back Carlos Hyde got to the corner and walked into the end zone to give the home team a 14-0 lead.
The turning point came toward the end of the first half when a questionable personal foul called on safety Jaquiski Tartt extended a Cowboys drive.
“I just pushed him, I didn’t hear a whistle,” Tartt said in the locker room after the game.
Merits of the call aside, quarterback Dak Prescott made the 49ers pay for the refs/their mistake by hitting Terrence Williams on a back-shoulder throw for a score three snaps later.
After scoring on their first two possessions, the Niners offense stalled late in the first half, going three-and-out on its drive after Dallas’ first touchdown. Making matters worse, Bradley Pinion shanked his punt, giving the Cowboys the ball at their own 42.
“We made two mistakes [in the first half], the penalty and the short punt,” Chip Kelly said after the game.
Prescott was surgical after having fortuitous field position gifted to him. He found Jason Witten for three-straight receptions to move the ball down the field. The rookie quarterback capped the drive with an impressive throw rolling to his left, hitting Brice Butler, who was starting in place of the injured Dez Bryant, for an equalizing touchdown.
San Francisco pushed the ball coming out of the break, but their offense fell short in the red zone, resulting in a Phil Dawson field goal.
A couple of possessions that ended in punts later, NaVorro Bowman was forced to leave the field with a lower leg injury. Trainers examined his left foot/ankle area on the sideline before he was carted to the locker room for further examination. He was seen leaving Levi’s Stadium in a walking boot. NFL.com‘s Ian Rapoport reports the team believes he has a torn achilles.
“It stinks,” tackle Joe Staley said. “It’s really, really bad. NaVorro is a captain for us, one of our team leaders. … That’s a huge role to fill. You can’t really replace a guy like NaVorro.”
The game entirely unraveled for the 49ers from the moment Bowman walked off the field. The Cowboys wasted no time in taking advantage of the 49ers losing their leader as Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball six times on the same drive for 50 yards and a touchdown.
And circumstances didn’t improve on the offensive side of the ball.
Gabbert, hoping to spark a comeback, took a shot downfield on 1st down and completely missed his target, receiver Torrey Smith, and Dallas easily intercepted the pass. Smith then went back to the sideline and slammed his helmet.
“That’s on me,” Gabbert admitted.
“We were both frustrated,” he continued. “That was a huge play in the game and every game in this league comes down to the one or two plays that change the outcome. That definitely had an impact on it.”
Gabbert is now 1-for-11 on throws that travel more than 20 yards this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Cowboys kicked a field goal on the ensuing possession to extend their lead and the 49ers proved hapless in an attempted game-tying drive with a few minutes remaining.
Making matters worse for the home team, DeForest Buckner — the Niners’ first-round pick — was injured on the final drive of the game and also left the locker room wearing a walking boot.
In a day that started with much promise, it was injuries with potential long-term ramifications and phantom penalties that took down the 49ers, who are now 1-3 after a promising opening game.