49ers defense thump Vikings, roll into NFC title game with 27-10 victory

sfgate.com: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8), is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, center, during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif

By Joe Hawkes
SRS Contributor

Santa Clara, Calif — In the first ever NFL playoff game at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers defended its home field in dominating fashion, outlasting the visiting Minnesota Vikings 27-10 on Saturday afternoon in the NFC Divisional round for their first playoff win in six years.

With the win, the top-seed 49ers (14-3) advance to the NFC championship game for the 16th time in franchise history where they await the winner between Seattle and Green Bay on Sunday in the other NFC Divisional matchup.

In his first playoff start, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a 3-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne for an early 7-0 lead. Garoppolo marched San Francisco 61 yards in eight plays after its defense forced Minnesota (11-7) to punt on their opening drive.

Garoppolo wasn’t spectacular, finishing 11-of-19 for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

“A lot of things to clean up, but we played well enough to get the win,” tight end George Kittle said. “That’s all you can ask for. Playoff football, anyone can win and we just made more plays today.”

Kittle had just three catches for 16 yards in the contest.

As a group including Kittle, San Francisco’s pass catchers (wideouts Deebo Samuel 3 catches for team-leading 42 yards, Bourne 3 catches for 40 yards, TD; and Emmanuel Sanders 2 catches for 33 yards) combined for just 11 catches for 131 yards and a score.

Minnesota quickly responded, tying the game up at 7-7 on a 41-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Stefon Diggs. 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who had struggled in coverage down the stretch of the season, had great coverage on Diggs, but slipped at the 19-yard line and Diggs ran into the end zone.

But that would be Minnesota’s best highlight of the day as San Francisco would hold the Vikings to 147 yards of total offense. San Francisco’s offense racked up 308 yards total.

“The 49ers I felt were the better team today,” Cousins said after the game. “We didn’t do enough offensively to give ourselves a chance to win the game. It hurts now. Mike [Zimmer] said he was proud of the way the team fought this year, but right now, it’s just so raw. We’re kind of focused on this game and falling short. I thought the 49ers were a good team. They earned the number one seed and home field advantage throughout the way they played this season.”

San Francisco would retake the lead for good, behind the first of two rushing touchdowns by running back Tevin Coleman. Coleman capped off a 10-play, 53-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge to give the 49ers a 14-7 lead.

“Those guys did very well,” Coleman said of his offensive line. “They moved the guys back so I had clear holes to run through. So, yeah, they did a real good job.”

Coleman finished the game with 105 yards on 22 carries.

Following an interception by linebacker Eric Kendricks inside the 49ers’ own territory, Minnesota added a 39-yard field goal by kicker Dan Bailey to cut the lead to 14-10 at halftime.

On their first possession of the third quarter, San Francisco stretched its lead to 17-10 behind a 35-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould.

After Richard Sherman intercepted Cousins inside Minnesota’s territory on the Vikings’ next possession, Coleman gave the 49ers a two-score lead with his second score of the game, a 2-yard run that increased San Francisco’s lead to 24-10.

It was Sherman’s third career playoff interception. Sherman has intercepted Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and now, Cousins.

Defensively, San Francisco overpowered Minnesota’s offense all day limiting the ground game and their play-action attack. Running back Dalvin Cook couldn’t find any running lanes, rushing for just 18 yards on nine carries.

“That was the No. 1 emphasis all week,” Bosa said of the Minnesota running game. “We knew we were facing probably the best back we’ve faced all year with Dalvin, and we knew we had to earn the right to pass rush. So, that’s what we did. We took the run as serious as we could, shut it down and then we ate.”

Bosa had a great start to his playoff career, registering two of San Francisco’s six sacks on the day. The returns of defensive Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander and safety Jaquiski Tartt proved to be vital for San Francisco’s defense, that looked like its dominating self from earlier in the season.

“It was huge to have those guys back,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “They’re leaders on our team, talented players, they make big plays for us. We were missing some pieces out there, but to get those guys back, we hit back on all cylinders.”

At one point, the 49ers held the Vikings’ offense without a first down for 27 minutes of game time. Minnesota had mustered just seven first downs, compared to 21 by San Francisco. The 49ers held the Vikings to 2-of-13 on third downs and dominated time of possession (38:27 to 21:33).

“We were playing good the whole game,” Armstead continued. “They got us early with the touchdown. We just locked in. We knew what they wanted to do which was run the ball. It starts with that, stopping the run. I think we did a good job with that. I saw they only had twenty something yards. Once we did that, we were able to get after the passer. When you do that, you can have a complete game and shut people out.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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