49ers/Cowboys: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Which way does the thumb turn for the 49ers after their 27-24 loss Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, including a meltdown in the secondary, collapsing in overtime, a non-protective offensive line, K David Akers, QB Alex Smith, TE Delanie Walker in a mismatch, WR Braylon Edwards going down early, a NFL-leading rushing defense, two Dallas receivers hitting the century mark and much more? Check inside.


Thumbs down: A 10-point lead with 11:12 remaining to play against a favored, playoff-caliber opponent at home. Those are the type of games San Francisco has to win to get over the hump of eight consecutive non-playoff seasons, but the 49ers couldn't close it out.

Thumbs down: Instead, the 49ers allowed a quarterback they had knocked out of the game to come back and beat them as Tony Romo led the Cowboys to scores on their final three possessions, allowing Dallas to rack up 201 yards on those three drives. Ouch.

Thumbs up: How about that robust 36-year-old left leg of kicker David Akers? Akers not only kicked a 55-yard field goal, the third-longest in franchise history which looked at the time like it would provide the winning points, but he also had four touchbacks, sending all five of his kickoffs into the end zone – or farther. Four of those kickoffs went at least seven yards into the end zone, and when Akers kicked off from the 50-yard line in the fourth quarter after a Dallas penalty, he drilled it through the uprights on a kick that traveled more than 70 yards.

Thumbs down: The meltdown by San Francisco's secondary was punctuated pretty appropriately on Dallas' first offensive play of overtime, when Donte Whitner bit hard on a play-action fake and froze while backup receiver Jesse Holley ran right pass him to haul in a 77-yard catch that set up the winning field goal on the next play.

Thumbs up: He had an interception that set up Dallas' first score, but you can't pin this loss on quarterback Alex Smith, who again played well enough within the game plan to lead the 49ers to a victory. Smith passed for 179 yards and rushed for 21, had a passer rating of 99.1 and again was the 49ers' bright spot on offense for the second week in a row to begin the season.

Thumbs down: But the offensive line that protected Smith so well in the season opener struggled to protect him this time, allowing six sacks to pretty much negate the progress it made in Week 1, when it allowed no sacks against Seattle.

Thumbs up: The San Francisco secondary is on a good pickoff pace with two more interceptions Sunday, including Whitner's takeaway in the end zone and Tramaine Brock's second pick in as many games this year to set up San Francisco's final touchdown in the third quarter. The 49ers left the game tied for fourth in the NFL with three touchdowns.

Thumbs up: Showing what a mismatch he can be for opposing defenses, Delanie Walker caught a go-ahead 29-yard scoring pass in the third quarter after lining up before the snap at fullback and slipping out of the backfield to easily beat linebacker Anthony Spencer on the play.

Thumbs down: It hurt the 49ers to see Braylon Edwards leave the game for good after San Francisco's third offensive play when Edwards hauled in a 21-yard reception – San Francisco's longest play of the game – but injured his knee while running over Dallas tacklers. Edwards' absence left a void in the San Francisco offense that the Niners never could quite fill.

Thumbs down: The 49ers were torched for 432 yards through the air by the Cowboys, who got 345 yards passing from Romo and another 87 from Jon Kitna, who threw a touchdown pass that tied the score with Romo out in the third quarter, before Romo came back to light up the 49ers again to the end.

Thumbs up: Taking the good with the bad, the 49ers did force Dallas to go to the air by completely stuffing the Cowboys on the ground. The Cowboys had just 45 yards rushing, averaging 2.2 yards a carry, and after two weeks San Francisco owns the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, allowing just 54.5 yards per game.

Thumbs down: But maybe forcing opponents to go to the air isn't a good thing for the 49ers as they couldn't stop any element of Dallas' passing game, with the Cowboys nearly finishing the game with three 100-yard pass-catchers. Wide receiver Miles Austin embarrassed the Niners with nine receptions for 143 yards and three touchdowns, tight end Jason Witten had 102 yards on seven receptions and Holley almost hit the century mark with 96 yards on his three receptions.

Thumbs up: On his first carry of the season, Anthony Dixon took it strong downhill for a first down on a key third-and-1 situation on the final play of the first quarter, bursting through an opening on the left side without the typical stutter-step or hesitation that dropped him behind rookie Kendall Hunter as Frank Gore's lead backup. The six-yard run helped keep alive what became the 49ers' first touchdown drive.

Thumbs up: Active for the game with Michael Crabtree not in uniform and then pressed into action after Edwards hurt his knee early, second-year wide receiver Kyle Williams came up big with the first touchdown reception of his career, making a fine over-the-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone to complete a 12-yard scoring play on third down that put the 49ers ahead 14-0 in the second quarter.

Thumbs down: Matched up in the slot on Austin, Brock was juked at the line of scrimmage, then slipped as he attempted to bump the Dallas receiver off the line. That allowed Austin to break open in the middle, where he took a quick pass from Romo 53 yards for a touchdown late in the second quarter that cut the 49ers' lead in half at the intermission and was a portent of things to come for San Francisco's secondary in the second half.

Thumbs up: The incomparable Andy Lee had another big game with a 55.3 average on his six punts, including boomers of 64 and 63 yards to continually push the Cowboys back after changes of possession. He also came up big on the only punt of overtime, hitting a 58-yarder that forced Dallas to start at its own 22.

Thumbs down: The San Francisco running game continued to go nowhere, and that prevented the 49ers from assuming command of a game they never trailed until the final score. Frank Gore was limited to just 47 yards on 20 carries and was given very little room to operate. Gore is averaging 2.5 yard rushing and has been getting beat up on his 42 carries so far this season.

Thumbs down: With a weapon like Vernon Davis and going against a depleted Dallas secondary, the 49ers could manage to get their star tight end involved for only two receptions for 18 yards, throwing the ball to him only those two times the entire game.

Thumbs up: After converting just 1 of 12 third-down opportunities in their opener, the 49ers were a very solid 8 of 16 in those situations against the Cowboys.

Thumbs down: Despite that fine stat above, the 49ers finished with just 206 yards of total offense. That, folks, simply isn't going to get it done, particularly against comeback-capable teams such as the Cowboys.


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