49ers defeat Cowboys to advance to NFC title game

Christian McCaffrey scored on a go-ahead two-yard run in the fourth quarter and San Francisco's defence did the rest, sending the 49ers to their second straight NFC title game with a 19-12 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Bengals beat Bills to set up AFC championship rematch against Kansas City

A male football player carries the ball across the goal line.
49ers running back Christian McCaffrey rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of his team's 19-12 win over the Cowboys in the NFC divisional round on Sunday at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Christian McCaffrey scored on a go-ahead two-yard run in the fourth quarter and San Francisco's defence did the rest, sending the 49ers to their second straight NFC title game with a 19-12 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The 49ers (15-4) used back-to-back long scoring drives in the second half to wear down the Cowboys (13-6) and win their 12th straight game. San Francisco advanced to play the Eagles in the NFC title game next Sunday in Philadelphia after losing in that round to the Rams a year ago.

The Cowboys lost for the record seventh straight time in the divisional round and have failed to make it to the NFC title game since winning their fifth Super Bowl title following the 1995 season.

Dak Prescott threw two interceptions and Brett Maher missed his fifth extra point of the post-season when his attempt was blocked. He later made two field goals.

"Just disappointment," Prescott said. "Defence gave us an opportunity to win this game. They played hard against a really, really good offence, a really good team. For us to only put up the points that we did, that's unacceptable. It starts with me. I've got to be better. There's no other way to sugarcoat it."

The Cowboys had a shot when they took over at their own 18 with 2:59 remaining, trailing 19-12 after Gould's fourth field goal of the game capped a nearly eight-minute drive.

But Prescott threw two straight incompletions and was sacked on third down. Coach Mike McCarthy opted to punt on fourth-and-10 with all three timeouts left.

Purdy improves to 7-0 as starter

Rookie Brock Purdy started the next drive with a 16-yard completion to George Kittle and San Francisco didn't give the ball back to Dallas until there were 45 seconds left at the six-yard line. Dallas never got close from there.

Purdy, the last pick in the draft last April, improved to 7-0 as a starter since replacing an injured Jimmy Garoppolo early in Week 13. He went 18 for 28 for 215 yards with no turnovers against the Cowboys, joining Joe Flacco (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009) as the only rookie QBs to win two playoff starts.

"Man, we're just excited that we won," Purdy said. "Everyone did their part. It's playoff football, it's never easy, but we're moving on."

A male football quarterback wearing No. 13 prepares to throw the ball with his right hand.
Rookie 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy throws a pass during the first half against the Cowboys on Sunday. (Josie Lepe/The Associated Press)

The 49ers took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter when McCaffrey capped a 91-yard drive with a two-yard run.

The drive featured a juggling 30-yard catch by Kittle and a pair of defensive holds against Dallas — including one on Donovan Wilson near the goal line that negated a third-down sack.

Kittle bobbled the ball a few times before finally corralling it, giving credit to his rookie QB for delivering it.

"I'm not even in the read, so I just kind of saw a space and he hadn't thrown it yet so I was just going up the field," Kittle said. "He gave me a catchable ball and I was just trying to be dramatic. Just for TV."

Maher made his second field goal of the game when he converted from 43 yards out to cut San Francisco's lead to 16-12.

The NFL's top two scoring teams over the past 13 weeks had trouble getting going as the defences led by All-Pros Nick Bosa of San Francisco and Micah Parsons of Dallas controlled the play.

The Niners turned two interceptions in the first half by Prescott into field goals by Robbie Gould and led 9-6 at the half.

The Cowboys scored the only TD of the first half with Prescott connecting with tight end Dalton Schultz for the third time this post-season. But Maher's low extra-point attempt was blocked by Samson Ebukam.

Maher got some redemption when he made a 25-yard field goal that tied the game at 9 early in the third quarter after Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a punt return at the San Francisco 21.

The 49ers would reach their second Super Bowl in the past four seasons with a win at Philadelphia.

Bengals shut down Bills in Buffalo

Joe Burrow threw two touchdown passes, Cincinnati's defence swarmed Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen on a snow-slicked field and the visiting Bengals advanced to their second straight AFC championship game with a 27-10 win over the Bills on Sunday.

Damar Hamlin's inspirational presence while watching the game from an end-zone suite was not enough to spark the Bills in a rematch of a regular-season game that was cancelled on Jan. 2 when the Bills safety went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati.

Instead, it was "Joe Cool" showing poise while playing in a persistent snowfall.

Burrow completed his first nine passes for 105 yards in leading Cincinnati to a 14-0 lead after its first two possessions. Ja'Marr Chase opened the scoring with a 28-yard TD catch 3:20 into the game, followed by Burrow's 15-yard TD throw to Hayden Hurst eight minutes later.

"The bigger the moment gets, the calmer he gets," Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Burrow, who improved his playoff record to 5-1. "Our guys believe. They walk on the field ready to attack."

Joe Mixon scored on a one-yard run, and Evan McPherson hit field goals from 20 and 28 yards in a game the Bengals never trailed.

Cincinnati advanced to consecutive AFC championship games for the first time in franchise history and will prepare for a rematch of last year's title game. The Bengals defeated Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City 27-24 to advance to last year's Super Bowl, which they lost to the Los Angeles Rams.

"It's going to be a fun one," said Burrow, who went 23 of 36 for 242 yards Sunday. "Two of the top guys in the league, two of the top teams in the league, great defences, great overall teams, great coaches."

A male football quarterback wearing No. 9 passes the ball with his right hand as snow falls in a stadium filled with fans.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) throws the ball during the second quarter of his team's 27-10 win over the Bills in the AFC divisional round on Sunday at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo. (USA TODAY Sports)
The Bengals have won the past three meetings against Kansas City, including a 27-24 victory last month. Kansas City is making its fifth straight appearance in the AFC championship game following a 27-20 win over Jacksonville on Saturday.

The Bills' playoff run ended in the divisional round for a second straight season, including a 42-36 overtime loss to Kansas City last year.

Had Buffalo defeated Cincinnati, the AFC championship would have been held at Atlanta next weekend because the Bills (13-3) finished the season a half-game behind Kansas City (14-3) after their game against Cincinnati was cancelled.

"Better send those refunds," Burrow said, referring to the 50,000 or so tickets already sold for a game that will never be played.

'We just didn't have it today'

It was a dud of an outing for the Bills, who opened the season with Super Bowl aspirations, and eventually ran out of emotional and physical gas. Aside from the stunning sight of Hamlin's collapse, the Bills had their schedule twice disrupted by severe winter storms.

Injuries also played an issue. The Bills' pass rush, missing Von Miller since he sustained a season-ending knee injury in November, generated very little pressure against a Bengals offensive line missing three starters due to injuries.

"We were expecting their best punch and they came out and punched us," said Allen, who finished 25 of 42 for 265 yards, and scored on a one-yard plunge. "We just didn't have it today."

The Bengals held one of the NFL's top offences to season-low 10 points. And the unit got a chance to celebrate by making snow angels in the end zone after Cam Taylor-Britt intercepted Allen's attempt at the goal line to essentially end the game with 62 seconds remaining.

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