Cowboys tie NFL playoff record as penalties prove costly in loss to 49ers



The Cowboys certainly did themselves no favors in Sunday’s playoff game against the 49ers.

Dallas led the regular season in penalties, and continued that trend against San Francisco, as it tied a playoff record for the most penalties in a postseason game. The Cowboys were called for 14 penalties, amounting to 89 yards. While the 49ers were far from clean themselves, called for nine penalties and 58 yards, Dallas’ penalties frequently came at crucial points in the game, either taking away big plays by the offense or giving San Francisco another chance.

For a team that was marred by penalties all season — 127 offensive penalties, 121 defensive — the constant mistakes stung in the 23-17 wild-card loss at home to San Francisco.

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Several of the penalties either took away big plays by the Cowboys, or allowed San Francisco the chance to keep drives alive and pick up big yardage, and they were especially costly late. Sporting News breaks down several that were detrimental to Dallas on Sunday.

Cowboys’ most costly penalties

Randy Gregory fourth-quarter holding

There were few penalties that stood out more than the one committed by defensive end Randy Gregory.

On San Francisco’s final drive of the game, needing only to wind the clock down to end the game, Deebo Samuel took a handoff and darted out to the left. The Cowboys were able to make the stop and hold him to no gain and bring up a crucial third-and-9 at the San Francisco 48. However, behind Samuel’s rush, Gregory tackled offensive lineman Daniel Brunskill, who was trying to get to the play and block for the running back.

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Gregory was flagged for holding, which gave San Francisco an automatic first down and moved them up to Dallas’ 47-yard line.

The first down allowed San Francisco to run several more plays, forcing Dallas to burn the remainder of its timeouts, which would have been crucial when the team got the ball back before the end of the game.

Neville Gallimore fourth quarter illegal use of hands

The 49ers offense was again given life and the chance to continue winding down the clock due to a penalty.

San Francisco took over possession with eight minutes left after Dallas brought the game to 23-17, making it a one-score game in the fourth quarter. The 49ers had picked up two first downs on the drive to drain more than three minutes off the clock, but the drive appeared ready to stall when they faced a third-and-12 from their own 37. Jimmy Garoppolo fired a pass up the middle to Samuel, but the pass was well defended, and fell incomplete. 

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However, at the line of scrimmage, defensive tackle Neville Gallimore was called for illegal use of hands to the face after nearly knocking the helmet off center Alex Mack with 4:31 left. It gave the 49ers a first down and moved them up five yards. After the penalty, San Francisco kept the clock rolling until they were forced to punt with 2:51 left.

It was already the second penalty on the drive that granted the 49ers a first down, but the earlier one came on first down and was still only for an additional five yards.

Dallas fourth quarter delay of game

The Cowboys had just reached into their bag of tricks and pulled out a perfect fake punt to keep a drive alive early in the fourth quarter.

Dallas faced a fourth-and-5 from its own 48 with 14:01 left and sent out the punting unit. Punter Bryan Anger threw a perfect pass to cornerback C.J. Goodwin, who made his first career reception for a gain of 16 out to San Francisco’s 36. With Dallas down 23-7, it felt like the spark the team needed to get back into the game.

What followed was inexplicable. The Cowboys kept their punting unit out on the field to confuse the San Francisco defense. With about 16 seconds left, the Cowboys finally switched back the offense out, forcing the 49ers to send out their defense. The official wouldn’t let Dallas snap the ball as San Francisco had to have time to complete its substitutions, by rule, and when the official finally stepped back, the Cowboys were called for a delay of game.

While the penalty was controversial, with some speculating as to why the referee waited so long to allow the Cowboys to snap the ball, it was still a bizarre decision by Dallas to leave its punting unit on the field for so long rather than bring the offense out.

After the delay of game, Dallas’ drive moved just eight more yards and was forced to settle for a 51-yard field goal.





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