Cowboys 27 49ers 24: Harbaugh’s Cautious Call Dooms 49ers


The San Francisco 49ers were handed multiple opportunities to pull off an upset over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.  It all started with Cowboys cornerbacks Terence Newman and Orlando Scandrick, and wide receiver Dez Bryant all out for the game with injuries.  During the game Cowboys RB Felix Jones was out for a big portion of the game with an injury, as was QB Tony Romo.  Romo looked like he was out for good after 49ers CB Carlos Rogers laid a hit on him that cracked a rib.  Backup QB Jon Kitna was having mixed results for the Cowboys when Romo returned to the game late in the third quarter.  The 49ers offense missed opportunities to score in the second half with numerous three-and-outs. 

Shortly after the start of the fourth quarter the 49ers made a field goal to pull ahead 24-14 but the Cowboys were called for a 15-yard penalty.  Instead of taking the penalty and a new fresh set of downs, Jim Harbaugh took the three points with 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter and a ten-point lead.  Alex Smith and the offense continued their pattern in the second-half of three-and-outs and did not score the rest of the game.  The 49ers defense could not hold off Romo’s hurt rib and the Cowboys offense as they scored 10 unanswered points to force overtime.  The final opportunity presented to the 49ers to pull off the upset was winning the coin toss and starting overtime with the football.  Smith passed for a 12-yard gain on the first play but then the 49ers went three-and-out in the next set of downs.  After the punt Romo needed just one play, a 77-yard pass to WR Jesse Holley, to set up the game winning field goal.  Game. Set. Match. 

Let’s hand out some Game Gold Nuggets.

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The offense at one point in the beginning of the game had four straight third-down conversions which helped the 49ers to a 14-0 lead.  The 49ers offense continued playing strong through the first-half even though they did not score again.  In the second-half however Alex Smith and the offense could not convert third downs or gain yards because of the Cowboys adjustments on defense at half-time.  After giving up zero sacks last week the offensive line gave up six sacks to the Cowboys in the overtime loss.  Protection completely broke down for Smith in the second-half as the 49ers were forced to pass late in the game.  The Cowboys continued blitzing all game and Smith showed he could not take advantage of the man coverage and the injuries in the secondary.

There is a real concern with the 49ers offense as it only gained 206 yards (132 passing yards and 74 rushing yards).  The offense is a huge reason for the loss against the Cowboys.  The 49ers had a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter and could not put the team in a position for at least a field goal.  The offensive line lost the battle on the line as RB Frank Gore had 20 rushing attempts but only 47 yards averaging 2.4 yards per carry.  Horrible. 

The 49ers showed they have not gotten over their tendency of not playing well in all four quarters of a game.  Too many times last season the 49ers played well in one half and sucked it up in the other half.  Against the Cowboys this was clearly the case once again.  In the fourth quarter and overtime the 49ers only scored three points to the Cowboys’ 13 points.  Let’s hope this is not a continuing trend for the 49ers.


The 49ers defense was holding its own against the Cowboys offense until late in the game.  The defensive line and linebackers were able to get pressure on Romo and Kitna all game with only four and five man rushes.  Ultimately the defense started to break down as the 49ers offense could not sustain long drives and keep the defense off the field.  With Kitna in the game the defense forced him to throw two interceptions but the quarterback did manage one touchdown pass to WR Miles Austin.  

After Romo came back into the game in the third quarter I thought it was going to be an advantage for the 49ers.  The defense was able to get hits on Romo but he was still able to get passes off for completions.  Whether it was Romo or Kitna the defense had no answer for TE Jason Witten or Austin.  Witten finished with seven receptions for 102 receiving yards with many coming over the middle against the 49ers undersized secondary.  Austin had a hot hand all game finishing with nine receptions for 143 receiving yards and THREE! touchdowns.  In the end it was the defense that lost the game as safety Donte Whitner was faked out by a play action and let receiver Jesse Holley get behind him.  Holley ran the catch for 77-yards to the 49ers one-yard line setting up the game winning field goal.


Punter Andy Lee averaged 45.7 yards with one punt going 64-yards.  Kicker David Akers was perfect on extra points and made a 55-yard field goal that put the 49ers up by ten-points early in the fourth quarter.  Ted Ginn Jr. did not break for any touchdowns or big returners but there were two punts were he almost ran for a huge gain but did not have the blocking. 


Special team’s coordinator Brad Seely had another good game even though there were no returns for touchdowns and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio figured out a way to pressure Romo without blitzing the whole defense.  Where the coaching failed against the Cowboys was the decision to stick with the three points instead of taking the penalty early in the fourth quarter.  Had the 49ers won the game that decision would have been a genius move by Harbaugh.  But in reality the 49ers blew a 10-point lead and offensive coordinator Greg Roman could not find the ability on offense to score in overtime. 

Harbaugh’s decision not to take a new set of downs on the Cowboys 20-yard line and drain more time off the clock while still having the chance to get the field goal or scoring a touchdown was a rookie mistake.  Harbaugh was being cautious, playing it safe and putting the game in the defenses hands.  He did not trust the offense to take time off the clock and be able to at least kick a field goal.  The confidence on offense was running high in the first-half for the 49ers.  But in the second-half, and with a lead, the 49ers were timid and tried to finish the game on top without scoring touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime.

I beg you Jim Harbaugh, take the training wheels off of this offense!

UP NEXT: @ Cincinnati.  The 49ers will go up against the Bengals in week 3 and we should not expect an easy matchup.  Rookie QB Andy Dalton has shown he can make plays and the Bengals are coming off of a heartbreaking loss like the 49ers in week 2.