The San Francisco 49ers may have lost both the battle and the war on Sunday.
A non-contact injury to NaVorro Bowman overscored what was an otherwise heartbreaking 24-17 defeat to the Dallas Cowboys.
Bowman fell to the ground after planting his foot into the turf in the third quarter, grabbing his Achilles and ankle area. The star linebacker, and emotional leader of the team, was carted off the field for further examination.
The injury put an exclamation mark on the 49ers’ third consecutive loss, which came during their only reprieve in a brutal schedule. The seriousness of Bowman’s injury has the potential to be a death blow to the struggling 49ers.
Kerley would finish the game, albeit with a noticeable limp, but Buckner was not so lucky. The first-round pick was seen in a walking boot in the locker room postgame, which can spell even more trouble for the 49ers as they enter a short week with a Thursday night matchup against the divisional Arizona Cardinals.
Gabbert and the 49ers offense rebounded nicely after a pair of poor showings to Carolina and Seattle, but couldn’t muster a fourth quarter comeback to push the game into overtime.
The 49ers’ offense looked poised to break out after they found the end zone in consecutive drives to open up the game. But San Francisco would score just one more time throughout the rest of the game on a field goal attempt while stalling against.
head coach Chip Kelly spoke about the tale of two halves after the game
“I thought we did a really good job early on the two opening drives, and then just didn’t sustain. We had two other drives in the first half, I think we only had four in the first half. So we didn’t stay on the field like we wanted to. Those are the things you have to clean up to be consistent. … Then we came out in the first round of the second half and did a nice job moving the ball down field, kinda stalled in the red zone and settled for a field goal. Against a team like this you have to do a better job on the offensive side.”
After converting on crucial plays earlier in the game, Gabbert would come up short on a fourth-and-six late in the fourth quarter to end their chances at a win. Gabbert threw one touchdown, and one interception, for 196 yards.
Gabbert may have done just enough to tilt the tides back in his favor after a pair of poor outings had his job security in question, . But the veteran still wasn’t pleased with the team’s lackluster second-half effort.
“We just stalled there a little bit.We have to watch the film to really see why, but when we have momentum like that and we’re clicking on all cylinders we can’t have errors on our side of the ball that prevent us from executing.”
In the battle of the Buckeyes, Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliot would top Carlos Hyde, punching in one touchdown on 123 yards compared to Hyde’s 74 yards and one score. The 49ers defense suffered again, allowing 428 yards to a Cowboys offense sans Dez Bryant.
The 49ers’ ailing offense — particularly their inefficiencies on third down — were the talk of the town heading into Sunday’s match.
But Gabbert got the remedy he needed in a middling Cowboys defense, using an aggressive passing attack that looked to test Dallas’ defensive backfield to move the sticks early and often.
A week after gaining just four total first-downs against Seattle, Gabbert led San Francisco to a perfect six-for-six on third down attempts through his first two drives. San Francisco didn’t blow an opportunity to move the sticks until halfway through the second quarter.
The 49ers weren’t just efficient on third down, they were damaging.
San Francisco’s first two touchdowns of the day came on third down tries, with Gabbert aggressively pushing the ball 33-yards down field to Jeremy Kerley for a score on their opening drive. Hyde would later punch in a three run touchdown on a third-and-one later in the second as well.
But San Francisco’s hot start would be negated by a surge of Dallas’ own, as the visiting team would rebuttal with two quick scores to notch things up at 14.
After holding the Cowboys scoreless through their first three attempts, Prescott and the Dallas offense would capitalize on an untimely personal foul on safety Jaquiski Tartt that negated what would have been another third down stop for the 49ers.
Prescott would punch in a 20 yard score to Terrance Williams just three plays later to put his team on the board.
Tartt’s penalty would be the beginning of what seemed like an inescapable momentum shift in Dallas’ favor. After the game, the second-year defensive back chalked it up to miscommunication.
“We were just playing. I was playing until I heard a whistle, but I didn’t hear it…[Prescott] was still standing and once I pushed him he fell. I just thought I’d finish the play off, they threw the flag and the rest is history.”
Prescott would continue to lead a resurgent effort on his next attempt, with the rookie looking like a wily veteran while leading an 11-play, two-minute drill that culminated in his second passing touchdown just before the first half whistle.
Attempting to regain momentum, San Francisco would benefit following two big gains from Carlos Hyde and Garret Celek to set up a 36-yard field goal for Phil Dawson to regain a 3-point advantage.
It would be the last climax before a disastrous fall for the 49ers.
Dallas would later find paydirt for the third time on an Ezekiel Elliot 1-yard rush, but San Francisco would loss much more than just the lead.
The blow was devastating to the 49ers both morally and physically, as Elliot would pound his way through the middle of the field often in Bowman’s absence.
With a void in the 49ers defense, Jason Garrett rode Elliot to the 49ers goal line late in the fourth, chewing up vital seconds on a dwindling clock.
With the game on the line, San Francisco’s defense would hold stout to give Gabbert a final chance to redeem the game for the 49ers, stuffing Elliot on a 2nd and 1 before holding Dallas to a field goal attempt for a seven-point deficit.
Gabbert would receive the ball with just over four minutes to work. But the veteran quarterback picked a poor time to revert to his old form, throwing short of the sticks to Torrey Smith on a fourth and six to sink the 49ers’ comeback.
Bowman is scheduled for an MRI on Monday, according to several media outlets including Pro Football Talk and NFL Network.
Rookie receiver Aaron Burbridge saw his first career snap Sunday, and caught his first ball, a five yard grab. … Michael Wilhoite replaced Gerald Hodges at middle linebacker, and tied Antoine Bethea with 12 tackles for the team lead.