Tony Pollard ran for two touchdowns with Ezekiel Elliott sidelined by an injury for the first time in the two-time rushing champion’s career, and the Dallas Cowboys beat the San Francisco 49ers 41-33 on Sunday.
Four of the seven Dallas scores were set up by turnovers from the 49ers (5-9), who guaranteed themselves becoming the second Super Bowl runner-up in the past 13 seasons to finish with a losing record the next year.
The Cowboys (5-9) kept faint playoff hopes alive in a matchup of longtime rivals with a rich playoff history that was moved out of prime time with both teams starting the day in last place in their divisions.
Andy Dalton threw for two touchdowns, and Greg Zuerlein kicked a tiebreaking field goal early in the fourth quarter after the second interception by Nick Mullens, who was replaced by C.J. Beathard.
Beathard handled the last two possessions and threw a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Kendrick Bourne on the final play.
Mullens also lost a fumble that led to one of two early touchdowns for a 14-0 Dallas lead a week after the backup quarterback had a fumble and interception returned for TDs in a loss to Washington.
Jeff Wilson’s 1-yard run for San Francisco tied the game at 24 late in the third quarter on one of the Niners’ four TD drives of 75 yards. Rookie Brandon Aiyuk and Jordan Reed had short TD catches to cap drives earlier in the game.
Mullens had a chance to lead the 49ers to a tiebreaking score, but safety Donovan Wilson’s first career interception put Dallas in position for the lead. After three straight incompletions, Zuerlein kicked a 46-yarder for a 27-24 lead.
Anthony Brown had the second pick of Mullens, and Pollard broke loose for a clinching 40-yard score. Pollard, who had a 1-yard TD plunge early, finished with 69 yards. Elliott has been battling a calf injury for weeks and was declared out before the game.
The 49ers had at least two turnovers for the eighth straight game, their longest streak since 2008.
After San Francisco kicked a field goal on second down to cut its deficit to a touchdown in the final minute, CeeDee Lamb grabbed the onside kick and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
Dallas long snapper L.P. Ladouceur set an NFL record for regular-season games by a Canadian-born player, making his 251st game official on a first-quarter punt. The 39-year-old Montreal native broke kicker Eddie Murray’s record of 250 games from 1980-2000.
49ers: RB Raheem Mostert left with an ankle injury. He’s missed four games because of an ankle injury this season. … S Jimmie Ward sustained a concussion late in the first half and didn’t return. … DE Dion Jordan injured a knee and didn’t return.
Cowboys: S Xavier Woods left with a chest injury and didn’t return. … LB Leighton Vander Esch injured an ankle in the third quarter. … DT Antwaun Woods injured his left ankle in the first half. … WR Michael Gallup, who had a first-half touchdown catch, injured a hip in the second half and didn’t return.
49ers: At Arizona in an actual road game Saturday in the stadium that has become San Francisco’s temporary home. It will be the sixth of seven straight games outside of California to finish the season after Santa Clara County banned contact sports over COVID-19 issues.
Cowboys: The final home game next Sunday against Philadelphia.