Obviously, the plan was to cover the Cowboys during this playoff weekend.
With a home game in the Wild Card Round, the Cowboys were at least the favorites to advance to the Divisional Round, but the 49ers had other ideas. And they brought those ideas to Green Bay as well.
With or without the Cowboys, it was an unreal weekend of football, with the most spectacular finishes you can have in four games.
Our editors weighed their takes, relating them to the Cowboys and what stood out the most after watching those epic games.
David Helmann: I’ll spare you all the gushing about my guys Joe and Ja’Marr, who I’m ridiculously excited for. Probably the thing that will stick with me the longest in this game was Mike Vrabel’s decision to score two after scoring a game-tying touchdown late in the first half. I understand that a Bengals penalty put them on the 1-yard line, but it’s still fascinating that we’ve reached a point where coaches are passing up early opportunities to take the lead in a game. It’s impossible to pick a call during a game, but the Titans theoretically could have played the entire fourth quarter with the lead if it wasn’t for this call. I don’t want to be too hard on aggressive decision-making, because I think it’s good for the game. Still, it’s crazy how far we’ve come in such a short time.
*Rob Phillips: *My first thought was, “Is the first-round bye really an advantage?” The answer is still “yes” because it’s a chance to get healthy before your playoffs start, but man, rust seemed to be a factor for Tennessee. It’s the second time in the past three years that at least one bye team hasn’t made it past the second round. Last year’s Bucs were the wildcard team that got hot at the right time, and there’s something to be said for keeping an edge and continuing to play without a bye week. That’s why I thought the Cowboys did the right thing when they faced the starters in the regular season finale in Philadelphia. It didn’t work, of course. But maybe the 49ers are that “hot” team this year.
Nick Eatman: I can’t tell you I’ve watched a ton of Bengals or Titans games this year, but every time I hear about Cincinnati, it’s either Burrow or Chase. Maybe it’s because I hear it from LSU fanatic David Helman. But no one is talking about Cincy’s defense. Give them credit for keeping Henry and the Titans in check. And another thing, the Bengals drafted a kicker in the fifth round. Hmm, maybe that’s something to look into.
Nick Eatman: They always say bad weather can serve as a neutralizer and that’s certainly the case here. Despite being a West Coast team, this weather was perfect for the 49ers, who just hung around long enough. I think the Packers probably win comfortably in good weather, but that’s why you play the game. I can’t help but wonder if this was Aaron Rodgers’ last game in Green Bay. Something tells me he’ll be on the Cowboys’ 2022 schedule anyway.
Rob Phillips: Credit the 49ers: They were the better team against the Cowboys in the first round, and they might have been the only NFC team that could have beaten the Packers in those wintry Lambeau conditions. San Fran did just enough with their dynamic running game to stay effective, and Jimmy Garoppolo made enough late pitches to win. The Cowboys had a great regular season, but they absolutely needed to manufacture rushing yards had they reached Lambeau – and control of the line of scrimmage became an issue for them late in the year.
David Helmann: It’s hard to think of a game that better encapsulates the cruelty of the NFL playoffs. Aaron Rodgers, for my money, has been the most talented quarterback to walk this Earth for most of the last decade. Although the Packers are loaded seemingly every season, they have only reached one Super Bowl. Rodger’s playoff record is 11-10. This stuff is ridiculously hard. But then, on the other side of the equation, the 49ers victory guarantees that a wildcard team will play in the NFC Championship Game for a second straight year. The pure chance of this sport makes everything possible. So with those two things in mind, it’s all the more frustrating to think that the Cowboys haven’t been able to piece together some sort of run together. Missed chances can melt your brain if you think about it for too long – something I’m sure the Packers can relate to right now.
Rob Phillips: I think Dallas would have had a better chance in Tampa for the same reasons the Rams won, and especially the quarterback pressure. The loss to San Francisco wasn’t the best game for the Cowboys pass rush, but Randy Gregory, DeMarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons would have had chances to affect Tom Brady, especially against a Bucs O-Line playing without Pro Bowl right tackle Tristan Wirfs. Of course, the Cowboys offense should have played much better than the San Fran game. We’ll never know, but that’s my opinion.
Nick Eatman: Ok, sorry but I have to ask – where did the referee spot the ball? I’m not trying to dig this game again and I’m really not suggesting the game result would have been any different had the Cowboys pulled off another snap – but after watching the Rams rush to the line after a 50 gain yards, I can’t help but wonder why the referee didn’t spot the ball. He certainly didn’t reach the line. Now, some TV angles show that maybe the back judge spotted him and was backing off the line. But if so, why didn’t it happen in the Cowboys game? Again, this is the game I care about even though it was a great game for the ages. This is just another example that officiating teams seem to change drastically from week to week.
David Helmann: It’s amazing how pressure can make even the most accomplished quarterback in history look human. Tampa Bay’s offensive line couldn’t find an answer for Von Miller and Aaron Donald on Sunday, and Tom Brady suffered for it. The book has been out on Brady for a long time at this point – make him uncomfortable and keep him from intervening in the pocket, and good things will probably happen. Brady threw for 329 yards against LA, but he needed 54 throws to get there because he rarely had time to stand up and find guys on the field. Does that completely absolve Dak Prescott for a bad game against San Francisco? No. But it’s at least a good starting point when you’re debating how to improve this team in 2022.
Rob Phillips: I can’t argue with those who say, ‘The Rams and Packers are finding ways to feature their best receivers – Cooper Kupp and Davante Adams, respectively – so why can’t the Cowboys involve Amari Cooper and CeeDee more? Lamb?” That’s a good point. The counterpoint might be what the Bills did in a losing effort on Sunday. It looked like All-Pro WR Stefon Diggs had doubled up a bunch, so QB Josh Allen looked for Gabriel Davis on the other end, and Davis had the game of his life with four catches. The Cowboys believe so much in their balance and depth in the passing game that for years they’ve mostly been a “take what the defense gives you” offense. I don’t disagree with that either, but the answer is somewhere in between: don’t constantly force things, but keep finding ways to work things out for the better.
David Helmann: I feel a deep sense of pity for all AFC teams who must find a way to beat these two aliens over the next decade. Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen are mind-blowing types of talent, and I’m guessing neither of them are going away for long. Even if you employ a great quarterback like Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson or Justin Herbert, it’s hard not to feel defeated by the thought of trying to outplay these guys – especially Mahomes, who seems to play Madden Franchise Rookie difficulty mode at this point. . I’m being completely candid when I say, if there’s a silver lining for the Cowboys right now, maybe it’s that the NFC seems to be loaded with a lot less quarterback talent than the AFC. . It’s going to be a meat grinder for years to come.
Nick Eatman: I don’t claim to be a draft expert – we have a few on our staff who do a great job. But I didn’t think it was a great QB class to come. Well, after watching this game, I bet there are a few prospects who will probably jump on the board just because of the Chiefs-Bills. True or false, I bet teams will value players a little more, and maybe even seek out a quarterback knowing you can strike gold. Not all Top 10-12 quarterbacks are successful, but some of them are special. We saw two of them get into it on Sunday night. It makes me think that Allen-Mahomes could be the next Brady-Manning rivalry that could last over a decade.