What 49ers Wild Card win vs. Cowboys says about 2021 season

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

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Far from pretty, the 49ers’ Wild Card win over the Cowboys epitomized a lot about how the Niners overcame adversity during the regular season.

Not unlike their wild overtime win against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 18, a game which the San Francisco 49ers had to have or they’d be packing for home, the Niners’ Wild Card thriller over the Dallas Cowboys drew a lot of parallels with how head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad has managed the entirety of the 2021 season.

Far from perfect? Absolutely. A game San Francisco should have decisively won? Probably. A win-by-the-skin-of-your-teeth outcome? That, too.

Sounds a lot like what happened during the regular season.

There are plenty of parallels from the Wild Card game and what happened during the 17-game stretch that led up to it. Whether they be moments where the 49ers seemed unstoppable, interluded by times where it seemed they couldn’t stop anything and were committing every mistake possible, it’s hard not to gauge the similarities.

In truth, though. That might actually be a good thing.

Resilient 49ers have been playing playoff football for a while now

In the wake of the Wild Card round, the Niners are the lone Wild Card team to advance into the divisional round. For many a Wild Card team, merely getting into the postseason is a bonus.

Truth be told, though, San Francisco has been playing playoff-like games for a while.

Ever since that four-game losing streak from earlier in the regular season, one which put the 49ers behind the proverbial 8-ball in the NFC standings, the team has been forced to play with noticeable desperation.

Weeks 10 through 18, a stretch where the Niners went 7-2, saw a lot of that desperation. And one could argue each one of San Francisco’s five remaining regular-season games was absolutely paramount to getting into the playoff dance.

The 49ers went 4-1 during that stretch, clinching in Week 18 in overtime.

49ers showed growth, improvement by beating Cowboys in Wild Card

While there are plenty of parallels, and the Niners have been playing playoff-like football for a while now, there are also some key differences between San Francisco’s Wild Card win over Dallas and what happened for a good chunk of the regular season.

True, special teams has been bad throughout, evidenced also by some notable miscues against the Cowboys. But some of the 49ers’ perceived weaknesses from the regular season aren’t any longer.

Case in point, the Niners are getting exceptional pass-rushing depth behind EDGE Nick Bosa, who left the game against Dallas with a concussion after picking up half a sack. San Francisco recorded a total of five sacks during the game. Unlike the first half of the regular season, when Bosa was almost single-handedly responsible for sacks, the 49ers’ pass-rushing depth picked up the slack.

Related Story: Studs, duds from 49ers’ Wild Card win vs. Cowboys

Additionally, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has seemingly bucked the trend of losing games when he tosses an interception. The team was 1-6 when he did so entering Week 18. And despite throwing picks in each of the last two games, San Francisco still managed to win. That’s changed, too.

Remember how bad the Niners’ cornerback situation was earlier in the year?

Well, San Francisco surrendered just 230 net passing yards to the Cowboys, who had the regular season’s best offense, both in terms of points and yards gained, while also limiting their top wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb, to just one catch for 21 yards and no touchdowns.

Thank you, rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas. Like the rest of the 49ers, you’ve improved a lot over the course of the year.

Perhaps the biggest kicker is this, though. While the Wild Card win was far from a perfect game, the Niners still managed to survive it somehow. Way back towards the beginning of the year, especially during that losing streak, last Sunday’s contest would have been yet another example of a game San Francisco would figure out how to lose, not win.

The 49ers turned the page, and they’re now playing with house money as a result.

Next. 10 biggest moments in historic rivalry between 49ers and Cowboys. dark