In the end, the Niners did just enough to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 19-12 win to advance in the playoffs.
The 49ers will travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, Fox).
San Francisco 49ers
After a few below-standard showings over the past month, the 49ers’ defense heard all the whispers.
The same group that led the NFL in most major defensive categories all season had showed signs of fatigue, and better playoff opponents were poised to pounce, the skeptics said.
But on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, that 49ers’ defense offered a resounding reminder of exactly what it represents, shutting down Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott & Co. on the way to the Niners’ third conference title game in four seasons.
Linebacker Fred Warner and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir came up with interceptions as the 49ers finished plus-1 in turnover margin. San Francisco is now 15-0 this season when it wins or ties the turnover battle. Dallas finished with just 282 yards of offense on 4.7 yards per play and was 5-of-15 on third down.
The Niners, who have now won 12 consecutive games in a season for the first time since 1984, advanced to face the Eagles with a Super Bowl bid on the line.
QB breakdown: The Dallas defense was easily the toughest test rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has faced since becoming the starter in Week 14, and it made his life difficult all day. When Purdy was pressured, the Niners struggled. When he had time to throw, he was solid.
But Purdy’s biggest number on the day was zero. As in the number of turnovers he had. That made the difference, as Purdy finished 19-of-29 passing for 214 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.
Prior to this season, there had never been a rookie QB to throw for 200 yards with no interceptions in a playoff game. Purdy has done it in back-to-back postseason contests.
Pivotal play: Stuck in the mud for most of the day, the Niners’ offense needed a spark, any spark, to get going. It came with 5 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter, when Purdy rolled to his left and saw tight end George Kittle darting down the middle of the field.
Purdy’s throw was on target but led Kittle a little too much. So, Kittle improvised, reaching out with his right hand and juggling it twice before hauling it in for a 29-yard gain. The Niners’ offense found traction on the ground soon after and scored the game-winning points on a 2-yard touchdown run by Christian McCaffrey eight plays later.
Describe the game in two words: Heavyweight fight. These were two of the three best teams in the NFC all season, and though both offenses were plenty explosive, the defenses were the consistently best units on both sides. That showed up on Sunday as they stood in the middle of the ring and exchanged blows for all 60 minutes, before the Niners emerged with the victory.
Underrated statistic to know: McCaffrey’s fourth-quarter touchdown marked his eighth consecutive game with a touchdown, the longest streak of his career and longest for the 49ers since Terrell Owens scored a TD in nine straight games in 1998. — Nick Wagoner