Good Monday morning, everyone, and happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
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It's not such a good morning for...
DAK PRESCOTT AND THE DALLAS COWBOYS
This loss was so bad that we elevated it to the top spot. The Cowboys have crashed out of the playoffs early once again, losing to the 49ers 23-17. This loss might be the most confounding of them all.
There are many, many areas in which Dallas either underachieved or outright failed, but the most notable one is the last play of the game ... a complete and utter failure for multiple reasons.
- Trailing by six points with 14 seconds left and no timeouts, Dak Prescott ran up the middle for 17 yards and slid down with nine-ish seconds left.
- Prescott gave the ball to center Tyler Biadasz, but NFL rules state a referee must spot the ball to start play.
- By the time a referee was able to run up to the play (and through the Cowboys' formation) and spot the ball, there was just one second left. By the time Prescott spiked it, the clock read 0:00.
I want to give credit to (CBS announcer 😉) Tony Romo, who diagnosed the situation perfectly on the broadcast to explain that there was no refereeing error here. That didn't stop Cowboys fans from throwing trash at the refs, though.
Let's review the actual issues here:
- Prescott needed to know a referee has to spot the ball. The play was immediately after a timeout, so if no one reminded Prescott of that, that's a failure on coaching, too.
- The play call was, frankly, terrible. Even if Prescott's run had been executed to perfection, the Cowboys would have had one shot at the end zone from the 24, instead of two shots from the 41. By calling a run play up the middle, the Cowboys gave themselves no margin for error, and it ultimately cost them their season.
But let's also make sure that one mistake at the end of the game doesn't mask a plethora of others from the Cowboys.
- Dallas had an NFL playoff record-tying 14 penalties for 89 yards. Four of those penalties gave the 49ers a first down.
- The Cowboys allowed five sacks. All five came on plays the 49ers did not blitz.
- The NFL's highest-scoring team scored 17 points.
- Prescott threw a bad interception to K'Waun Williams, and Deebo Samuel scored on the next play.
- Mike McCarthy made a couple of questionable-at-best decisions. Early in the fourth quarter, trailing 23-7, McCarthy opted for a 51-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal instead of going for it on 4th-and-7. Luckily for McCarthy, Zuerlein converted, but at 23-10, the Cowboys still needed two touchdowns. They ended up getting one.
The Cowboys now enter a longer-than-expected offseason with plenty of questions to answer. One of the biggest ones: will McCarthy return? NFL insider Jason La Canfora says Jerry Jones could fire McCarthy and elevate offensive coordinator Kellen Moore to head coach, especially after the early playoff exit.
Not so honorable mention
- LeBron James took to Twitter to apologize to Lakers fans for the team's continued struggles.
- Kevin Durant sprained his MCL and is out four to six weeks. Meanwhile, Draymond Green is out at least two weeks with a calf issue.
- Seahawks fans won't be happy to hear Russell Wilson reportedly wants to consider other teams this offseason.
- Baylor became the first AP No. 1 team to lose at home twice in the same week. Expect a new No. 1 -- either Auburn or Gonzaga -- by mid-day.
And a good morning to everyone else but especially to...
THE SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Let's not forget about the team that actually won that Cowboys game: The 49ers. They are now two games away from the Super Bowl.
- The 49ers marched right down the field on the opening drive, going 75 yards in seven plays, capped by an Elijah Mitchell 4-yard rushing touchdown.
- San Francisco then scored a field goal on each of its next three drives. It was just the second time the 49ers scored on each of their first four possessions of a game this season. The other time was against the Jaguars.
- The 49ers defensive line was awesome: five sacks, and, as I mentioned earlier, none came off a blitz.
- They won despite losing stars Nick Bosa and Fred Warner to injury during the game.
The 49ers will never win with tons of style points or a high-flying offense. But the idea that they are an offensive eyesore is far from the truth. You know who led the NFL in yards per play this year? That's right, the 49ers did.
San Fran is simply are who they are, and they won't apologize for it. Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo is going to make some mistakes. He gifted the Cowboys life with a truly horrible interception yesterday. If you're going to judge Garoppolo negatively for that play, though, make sure to credit him for a huge Week 18 in which he led a massive comeback to get the 49ers into the playoffs.
San Francisco has limitations offensively, but it also has the playmakers -- Samuel, Mitchell, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk -- to make things happen when needed. The defense is solid enough to keep them in games, and the defensive line is spectacular. It's just a tough, tough bunch. As the Cowboys found out, just because the 49ers barely snuck into the playoffs doesn't mean they can't do damage. Packers, be forewarned.
As for the rest of the weekend's playoff action 🏈
Let's go rapid-fire through the other four games — three of which were not competitive at all:
- Chiefs 42, Steelers 21: After a slow start, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on six straight drives, including five Patrick Mahomes touchdown passes. Travis Kelce threw for Kansas City's sixth touchdown and became the first player in postseason history to throw a touchdown, catch a touchdown and record 100+ receiving yards. Ben Roethlisberger all but confirmed it was the last game of his career.
- Buccaneers 31, Eagles 15: Tampa Bay dominated in all facets of this one, leading 31-0 early in the fourth quarter. Tom Brady threw touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans, and the Buccaneers' defense dominated Jalen Hurts, picking him off twice. The Eagles must explore all options at QB this offseason, writes our NFL expert Cody Benjamin.
- Bills 47, Patriots 17: The Bills became the first team in playoff history to have no punts, no field goals and no turnovers in a game. That's right -- Buffalo had nine possessions: seven touchdowns and two to kneel out the clock. Josh Allen made some history as well. It's a bitter end for a Patriots team that simply ran out of gas down the stretch, writes our Patriots expert Tyler Sullivan.
- Bengals 26, Raiders 19: Joe Burrow tossed a pair of touchdowns and Germaine Pratt intercepted Derek Carr on 4th-and-goal to preserve Cincinnati's first playoff win in 31 years. There was also plenty of refereeing controversy in this one, and this crew reportedly will not be assigned another game this postseason.
So here's what the NFL Divisional Round looks like 👀
We only have Cardinals vs. Rams left to round things out tonight. Let's take a look at the next round of the playoffs.
- Bengals at Titans, 4:35 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+
- 49ers at Packers, 8:15 p.m. ET on FOX
- Winner of Cardinals vs. Rams at Buccaneers, 3:05 p.m. ET on NBC
- Bills at Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS and Paramount+
Novak Djokovic officially deported from Australia ahead of Aussie Open 🎾
After a weeks-long controversy, Novak Djokovic officially had his visa canceled by the Australian government, was deported and will not play in the Australian Open.
Djokovic is unvaccinated against COVID-19, and the state of Victoria had established in late 2021 that all Australian Open players must be vaccinated and that medical exemptions would only be granted in "exceptional circumstances."
- Jan. 4: Djokovic posts on Instagram that he was granted a medical exemption and will travel to Australia.
- Jan. 5: Djokovic arrives in Melbourne, but his official entry into the country is delayed by visa issues.
- Jan. 6: Djokovic is denied entry into the country and his visa is canceled.
- Jan. 10: Djokovic's visa is reinstated by a judge, with the reasoning being Djokovic did not have time to contact his lawyers before his entry was denied.
- Jan. 11: Djokovic admits to participating in an interview in December after testing positive for COVID-19 and also that his travel declaration to Australia misstated his past travel.
- Jan. 13: Djokovic is included in the Australian Open draw as the top seed.
- Jan. 14: Djokovic's visa is canceled again.
What we're watching Monday 📺
🏈 No. 7 Purdue at No. 25 Illinois, Noon on FOX
🏀 Bulls at Cardinals, 3:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Bucks at Hawks, 6 p.m. on TNT
🏈 Cardinals at Rams (-3.5), 8:15 p.m. on ESPN/ABC