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49ers Musings and Other Notes of Note

The most talked about game of NFL wild card weekend was the 49ers’ 23-17 win over Dallas. The Niners were the only road team to win, but it took a wild finish and a raft of penalties and poor decisions by the Cowboys to make it happen.

Some observations:

Defense Does It: The key to the win, and the 49ers’ entire turnaround this year, was defense. San Francisco was 3-5 and many people, including this writer, thought the season was going into the tank. What happened?

Defensive tackle D.J. Jones became one of best run-stoppers in the league. Arik Armstead was moved inside and found a home. Arden Key came out of nowhere to become a top pass rusher. Once the rest of the D-line began producing, Nick Bosa became even more dangerous. Linebacker Fred Warner re-emerged as one of the best tacklers in the league.

Even without Bosa for most of the game, and Warner for the last eight minutes, the 49ers were able to hold the highest scoring team in the league to 17 points.

Flag Fiasco: The Cowboys were their own worst enemy, being flagged for 14 penalties, including a half-dozen pre-snap fouls and two costly “hands to the face” offenses.

Neither team displayed much poise in a Keystone Kops fourth quarter that featured 11 penalties.

"That was awful," said 49er All-Pro tight end George Kittle. He was right.

Good Jimmy vs. Bad Jimmy: The full range of Jimmy Garoppolo was on display vs. Dallas. Good Jimmy made perfect third down throws, stood brave in the pocket and delivered under heavy pressure, repeatedly threading the needle to Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings. He has played through injuries, has an obvious bond with his teammates, and has shown tremendous class amidst the team-manufactured quarterback drama.

Bad Jimmy showed up in the second half with frustrating misses to a wide-open Aiyuk, a ground ball to Kittle, a horrible interception, and the quick snap that caused a false start, thereby wiping out a game-sealing first down on his quarterback sneak.

Classless Cowboy: Dallas QB Dak Prescott wants to blame everyone but himself for the wild ending of Sunday's game, when the Cowboys ran a quarterback draw with 14 seconds left and no time outs remaining. By the time the Cowboys raced to the line of scrimmage and umpire Ramon George properly spotted the ball, the clock had ticked down to zero.

After the game, when asked about fans who were throwing bottles on the field at the officials, Prescott said, "credit to them."

Asked to clarify, Prescott went even further, "If the fans felt the same way as us and that’s what they were doing it for, yeah, I’m guessing that’s why the refs took off and got out of there so fast."

First of all, throwing bottles on the field is never right.

Second, the Cowboys had only themselves to blame for: 1) calling a run from the 41 yard line with 14 seconds and no time outs left, 2) Prescott running all the way to the 24 rather than stopping around the 30, and 3) Prescott handing the ball to his center rather than the official who had to set the ball.

With 14 seconds the Cowboys had time for at least two throws into the end zone. Forty-one yards is not a hopeless heave. And given the 49ers propensity for pass interference penalties this year, something good might've happened.

Instead, Prescott ran it, went too far, slid down, handed the ball to the wrong person, and the game was over.

You lost. You blew it. Get over it.

Packers' Redux: In the third week of the season the 49ers lost to the Packers 30-28 in one of the more entertaining games of the year.

The 49ers had driven the length of the field to take a 28-27 lead, leaving the Packers with 37 seconds and no time outs left. Sound familiar?

That was enough for Aaron Rodgers, who drove the Packers 42 yards to set up the game winning field goal.

Much more will be at stake this time. The Niners’ defense has improved significantly, and Deebo Samuel has emerged as one of the most exciting players in the NFL, but Rodgers is the league’s MVP and the Packers will be playing on their home turf, in freezing weather.

The Packers are rightfully favored, but the 49ers have a shot.

And elsewhere:

How to Win a Championship: A lot of things contributed to Georgia’s national college football championship, but first on the list is recruiting. The Bulldogs have signed one of the nation’s top recruiting classes for the past five years, and here’s why.

According to USA Today, Georgia spent more than any other team in the nation…far more. Over a five year period beginning in 2016, the Bulldogs spent $13.5 million on football recruiting, an average of $2.7M per year.

As a friend of mine likes to say, that’s a lot of benjamins.

Warriors’ Struggles: Our Golden State Warriors have been struggling of late, losing five of their last seven games. Many fans and writers have attributed this speed bump to Steph Curry’s shooting slump, but from this vantage point the biggest reason has been the absence of Draymond Green. Green is not only the key to the Warriors’ defense, but as the team’s point forward he sets up many of Curry’s best looks.

Let’s hope Green returns from his leg injury ASAP. The Warriors need him badly.

Stanford’s Stopper: Coach Tara VanDerveer’s defending national champion Stanford basketball team, while not clicking on all cylinders, has managed to find a way to win.

The Cardinal, ranked No. 2 in the nation, has ridden the all-around excellence of Haley Jones, the fierce, hellbent drive of Lexie Hull, and the recent re-awakening of Cameron Brink. But the key to their chances of winning another title may rest with Anna Wilson (Russell’s sister), the best defensive player in the Pac-12 and the team’s most reliable ballhandler.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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