49ers host Cowboys with elusive win still out there (Oct 22, 2017)

October 19, 2017

Bobby Beathard schemed for years to beat the Cowboys as an NFL front-office executive.

His grandson will make his first NFL start Sunday against Dallas.

Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard will get the call at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., when the San Francisco 49ers try for the seventh time to garner their first win, this time at the Cowboys' expense.

Beathard's NFL debut last week in Washington nearly culminated in a victory. Beathard, taking over for Brian Hoyer with San Francisco trailing the Redskins 14-0, completed 19 of 36 passes for 245 yards and a touchdown, only to see the 49ers endure a fifth consecutive agonizing loss.

The 26-24 defeat was San Francisco's fifth in a row by three points or fewer, marking the first time in NFL history a team did that. San Francisco lost 23-3 in its opener to Carolina and looked absolutely hapless in doing so but has been outscored by only 13 points in the gut-wrenching stretch.

"I know we're 0-6 and that's extremely tough, but I'm extremely excited about this place and excited about where we're at and where we're going," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

While San Francisco is looking for a breakthrough, Dallas (2-3) is simply hoping a reset gets its season on track. The Cowboys have already lost as many games this year as they did in 2016, and they are 2 1/2 games behind the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East.

Fresh off its bye, Dallas got some surprisingly good news when a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking the six-game suspension the NFL slapped on running back Ezekiel Elliott over domestic-violence allegations.

Elliott will be able to play this week and next before litigation resumes. He has rushed for 393 yards in five games, which includes a nine-carry, 8-yard effort Sept. 18 in Denver.

The Cowboys' offense has revolved more around Dak Prescott. After one of the best rookie seasons by a quarterback in league history, Prescott hasn't made acquaintance with the sophomore jinx.

Prescott is on pace to throw 35 touchdown passes and finish with more than 3,800 yards in the air, and he also is chipping in on the ground. One can't blame Dallas' losing record on the guy taking the snaps.

"He's playing really well," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "He's really doing everything we ask him to do. He makes so many plays within the scheme, throwing the ball to the right guy on a consistent basis. And then when things break down, making great plays with his feet and his arm out of the pocket."

The 49ers' defense doesn't appear equipped to slow down Dallas' balanced attack, particularly as Shanahan introduces younger players to the lineup. With last week's release of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, most of the unit could just about work in a witness protection program, aside from professional pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil and safety Eric Reid.

Then again, one could make the case that the Cowboys' defense hasn't exactly carried its share of the load. Dallas allowed at least 35 points in all three losses, failing to make the game-saving stop in the last two minutes two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers.

Dallas will have two new starters on defense this week -- one by choice, the other by surprise. After cutting cornerback Nolan Carroll, the Cowboys saw nose tackle Stephen Paea retire.

San Francisco figures to attack Dallas with the run game behind Carlos Hyde, who has 360 yards on 86 attempts, then let Beathard try to hook up with Pierre Garcon. The veteran wide receiver is on pace to finish with 88 receptions for more than 1,000 yards, and he should get plenty of chances to add to his stats against a shaky secondary.

The guy throwing Garcon the ball figured to be in this position at this time last year, although he took a circuitous route to get here. Beathard was ranked as the top quarterback by some scouts before his senior season at Iowa, but he slid down draft charts as the year progressed.

Instead of going early in the draft, Beathard saw five other quarterbacks picked ahead of him before the 49ers called his name in the third round. He will become the fourth rookie quarterback to start a game this year.

"Just being around the guy, I think you have a very tough person mentally and physically," Shanahan said of Beathard. "C.J. started a lot of games in college. I don't think it's too big for him. I think he's just going to go about it like he's gone about every other day throughout his career."