49ers hitting their stride in 34-26 win over the Vikings

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Josh Norman (26) and Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) both reach up for the ball as Norman is called for pass interference in the second half at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara Sun Nov 28, 2021 (AP News photo)

by Marko Ukalovic

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Winning cures all ails and criticism.

For the San Francisco 49ers they used a familiar formula in which has made them successful in the month of November in a 34-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

That formula was to control the time of possession by utilizing the hottest rookie running back in the NFL, in Elijah Mitchell, and get timely turnovers on defense.

San Francisco has won three games in row to climb over the .500 mark. They also climbed up to the number sixth seed and second wild card spot in the NFC. Minnesota had its two-game winning streak snapped and fell a game under .500 and are in a three-way tie for the seventh and final playoff spot.

“Yeah, I think we have played our best football, these past three games,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan when asked if his team were hitting their stride during its current winning streak. “Just in all three phases. I thought this one was a huge one because it’s a little different that the last two (games) because it came down to the wire and things went good for both sides at certain times in the game.”

Minnesota (5-6) drew first blood after Harrison Smith intercepted 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garopollo on the Niners first possession and returned the ball to San Francisco’s 49 yard line.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins engineered an eight-play drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown reception to wide receiver Adam Thielen with 3:33 left in the first quarter.

San Francisco (6-5) responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive to even the score at 7-7 when Deebo Samuel scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns, a 20-yard end around down the right sideline. The key play of the drive was a 37-yard reception to Brandon Aiyuk on a 3rd and 14 to Vikings 33 yard line.

Minnesota went up 14-7 early in the second quarter. Cousins led a six-play drive for 80 yards that accumulated in a 20-yard touchdown reception to Thielen who was left wide open in the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.

The 49ers finished off the first half with a 15-play, 85-yard drive to tie the score at 14 apiece. The drive was set up with a 24-yard reception to Aiyuk at the Vikings six-yard line. After an offside penalty, Garoppolo found Jauan Jennings in the flat as he tip-toed his way along the sidelines for a two-yard touchdown reception.

San Francisco opened the second half with a six-play, 75-yards to take their first lead of the game that resulted in a three-yard rushing touchdown from Samuel as he cruised around the left sideline for his second rushing touchdown of the game. Samuel set up the drive with a 49-yard rush to get the inside the Vikings red zone.

“Yeah. I wasn’t happy with how it (the game) started,” said Garoppolo. “But what we did before halftime and coming out in the second half, I think really helped turn the game in our favor.”

Samuel finished with 66 yards of rushing on just six carries.

The Niners defense came up with a big turnover on Minnesota’s first play of the second half. Azeez Al-Shaair intercepted Cousins at the 26-yard line and returned it for 24 yards to the Vikings two-yard line.

San Francisco didn’t waste any time punching the ball in the endzone as Mitchell scored on the next play, a two-yard rushing touchdown.

Mitchell, the rookie running back sensation, finished the afternoon leading all rushers with 133 yards on 27 carries and one touchdown.

“Whoever is in my way, I just try to run the ball, run them over, if anything run by them. It’s just the mindset I have and I’m going to continue to have it,” Mitchell said.

The Vikings got back into the game when Alexander Mattison scored on a six-yard rushing touchdown with 8:28 left in the third quarter to complete a five-play, 75-yard drive. However, kicker Jordan Berry missed the extra point wide right to trail 28-20.

San Francisco marched down the field on their next possession as Robbie Gould kicked a 46 yard field goal to extend the 49ers lead to 31-20.

Minnesota answered back immediately as Kenny Nwangwu returned the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to close the game to 31-26. The Vikings went for the two-point conversion but Cousins failed to connect with wide receiver Justin Jefferson on a passing attempt.

The Niners defense held down the fort in the fourth quarter as the kept Minnesota off the scoreboard on the Vikings final two offensive possessions. Each resulted in a turnover in downs inside the 49ers red zone.

“Disappointing loss,” said Cousins. “I was proud of the way our team battled in all three phases and made plays. It was a great team effort but, this one hurts right now.”

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook had to be carted off the field after suffering a shoulder injury on a play where Niners defensive lineman Kevin Givens stripped Cook of the ball that was recovered by Al-Shaair.

Garopollo finished with 230 yards on 17 of 26 with one touchdown and one interception. Cousins 20 of 32 for 238 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Jefferson threw one pass for 24 yards on a Philly special type of play in the second half.

Aiyuk led the Niners in receiving with three catches for 91 yards. Jefferson led all Vikings receivers with four catches for 83 yards. Thielen chipped in five catches for 62 yards and his two touchdowns but was shutout in the second half.

GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished 5-for-12 on third down conversions. Minnesota was just 2-for-8.

Samuel, only had one reception for 12-yards but it was a meaningful one. It allowed him to reach the 1,000 yards receiving milestone for the first time in his career.

Linebackers Dre Greenlaw (groin) and Fred Warner (hamstring) suffered injuries and did not return. Samuel also left the game in the fourth quarter with a groin injury.

UP NEXT: San Francisco travels out to Seattle to take on the Seahawks on Sunday 12/5 at 1:25pm as the game was flexed out by the NFL and NBC as the original scheduled time was supposed to be at 5:20pm on Sunday Night Football.

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