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In their first playoff matchup since the 2013 campaign, the 49ers utterly dominated the Vikings, punching their ticket to the NFC Championship game with a decisive 27-10 win Saturday afternoon.

Two wins away from their first Super Bowl appearance since 2012, the San Francisco 49ers welcomed high-flying Minnesota to Levi’s Stadium. The sixth-seed Vikings are by no means a walk-in-the-park, and the 49ers had their hands full against one of the most balanced teams in the NFL.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.

What started as a close game in the first half ended up being all 49ers in the second half. A big day on the ground from Tevin Coleman (22 carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs) was paired with six sacks from the 49ers defense.

Earning the No. 1 seed and a bye week last week, the 49ers entered Saturday’s game as healthy as ever. The returns of Kwon Alexander, Jaquiski Tartt, and Dee Ford provided the 49ers with a massive boost to their defense.

The 49ers won the toss and elected to kick off to begin the first 49ers playoff game at Levi’s Stadium.

Both Alexander and Tartt were on the field for the Vikings first play from scrimmage, with Ford expected to be used mostly on third downs. Back-to-back running plays led to a 3rd-and-8 for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings. An incomplete pass to Stefon Diggs forced a quick Vikings punt.

After the game, Richard Sherman discussed the impact of all three of Tartt, Ford and Alexander have on the 49ers defense, and how it felt to have a complete defense again:

“Felt good. It felt good. That’s what we look like when we’re totally healthy. Those guys make a huge difference in our defense. They played fast, they recognized things. Having veteran presence, they understand how teams are trying to attack us. They understand what they’re seeing. They play fast. The moment is not too big for them. Dee obviously makes a huge impact on third down and passing situations. So, we’re thankful to have them all back. Tartt does a great job of recognizing things, being in the right spot. He made a huge difference. All three of them made a huge difference in this game.”

Jimmy Garoppolo, making his first career postseason start, led his offense onto the field. A two-yard run by Matt Breida was followed by a pass over the middle to Deebo Samuel for a quick first down.

A 22-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders gave the 49ers the ball on the Vikings 27-yard line. A second pass to Sanders moved the 49ers into the red zone after five plays. Two plays later a pass to George Kittle set up a first-and-goal for the 49ers. One of the 49ers best red-zone weapons, Kendrick Bourne, hauled in a touchdown to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead.

Kyle Shanahan talked post-game about how important that first drive was and what kind of tone it set:

“You’d like to say that’s always the most important drive until it doesn’t work, then the next one is. It’s huge. We didn’t play all last week. You’re at your home crowd and you want to come out and be like that. You could hear the fans just in pregame warmups. The stadium was electric. It was different than it’s been. When our defense holds them, i want to say it was three-and-out to start. We get in there, are able to go down and get seven. It’s a great feeling.”

Cousins and the Vikings had better success on their second drive. Converting a couple of first downs, the Vikings marched past midfield. A 3rd-and-2 from the 49ers 41-yard line resulted in a Vikings touchdown to tie things at 7-7. Ahkello Witherspoon who has started at cornerback opposite of Richard Sherman, fell down on a pass to Diggs downfield.

Back-to-back runs by Raheem Mostert gave the 49ers a first down on their following drive. Two more runs with Mostert and four-straight on the drive moved the 49ers to midfield. Trying to establish the run, the 49ers had 3rd-and-10 from their own 48-yard line. Garoppolo got crushed on the play, but Bourne bailed him out with a fantastic diving catch for the first down.

Garoppolo would not be as lucky on the next play. A sack by Danielle Hunter gave the 49ers a 2nd-and-19. An incomplete pass to Kittle followed by an offsides penalty set-up 3rd-and-24 and then a 49ers punt to end the first quarter.

After Witherspoon gave up the big touchdown to Diggs, he would be replaced by Emmanuel Moseley on the Vikings third drive. A sack of Cousins by Arik Armstead, followed by two running plays would lead to a three-and-out for the Vikings, who were backed up to their own 10-yard line.

An 18-yard punt return by Richie James gave the 49ers the ball at their own 47-yard line to begin their third drive.

Garoppolo’s first pass of the drive was incomplete to Bourne, which was followed by a short run from Mostert. On 3rd-and-7, Deebo Samuel got called for an offsides penalty, giving the 49ers 3rd-and-12. On the very next play, Samuel made up for the penalty, hauling in a 14-yard pass from Garoppolo, good for a first down.

A reverse run by Samuel on the next play resulted in a fumble recovered by the Vikings. The fumble was reviewed and eventually overturned. Two plays later the 49ers had 1st-and-10 from the Vikings 30-yard line. After multiple running plays, Samuel hauled in a big one. An 18-yard catch put the 49ers on the Minnesota 1-yard line.

A quarterback sneak by Garoppolo was stuffed at the goal line before Tevin Coleman scored from one yard out. The 49ers jumped back ahead 14-7 with 7:10 remaining in the first half.

A 39-yard kickoff return by Ameer Abdullah gave the Vikings great field position. A run and a pass to Dalvin Cook set up a 3rd-and-9 for the Vikings. Cousins found his tight end, Kyle Rudolph, for a short gain, but not enough for a first down. Back-to-back three-and-out’s for the Vikings.

Backed up on their own 8-yard line, the 49ers offense looked to drain the rest of the clock. A run by Coleman, a run by Mostert, and a quarterback sneak from Garoppolo gave the 49ers a first down.

On the next play following the first down, Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks picked off Garoppolo in 49ers territory.

Beginning their drive at the 49ers 29-yard line, the Vikings were in an excellent position to tie this game up before half time. A pass from Cousins to Cook for four yards was followed by a first down pass to Thielen to the 49ers 16-yard line.

Two plays later, the Vikings were faced with 3rd-and-11 with 44 seconds left in the half. Overwhelming pressure from the 49ers defensive line resulted in a sack of Cousins by none other than Dee Ford. The Vikings settled for a field goal, trimming the 49ers lead to 14-10 with 31 seconds left.

A kneel-down from the 49ers sent this game to half time. Some first-half stats:

The 49ers received the second-half kickoff, which was followed by a Vikings unnecessary roughness penalty. A four-yard run from Mostert followed by an incomplete pass to Samuel set up a huge 21-yard catch by Bourne into Vikings territory.

Back-to-back runs from Coleman gave the 49ers a first down at the Vikings 25-yard line. Two more running plays and an incompletion from Garoppolo forced a 4th-down field goal from Robbie Gould, giving the 49ers a 17-10 lead.

The 49ers defense immediately forced a 3rd-and-9 on the Vikings first drive of the half. Just as the 49ers did in the first half, the Vikings would turn the ball over in their own territory. Sherman picked off Cousins, and the 49ers were back in business.

After another lock-down game at cornerback, Sherman sounded off on his doubters after the game:

The 49ers continued to favor the running game, breaking off a few runs for a couple of first downs in Vikings territory. From the Vikings 21-yard line, Mostert carried for four yards. Running play after running play, the 49ers scored from the 2-yard line on a run from Coleman. The extra-point was good, and the 49ers had a commanding 24-10 lead with 4:45 left in the third quarter.

At this point, the 49ers had rushed 31 times for 132 yards, while Garoppolo attempted 16 passes for 126 yards. Kyle Shanahan’s plan was clear: run the ball down their throat.

After the game, George Kittle discussed the 49ers rushing attack, and how it allowed them to take control of this game:

“I personally feel like we don’t run the ball enough every week. We got 47 rushes. I was happy about that. I think we should have gotten 50. Our defense did a fantastic job. We put them in a couple of bad situations early. They handled it well, held them to a field goal, got a stop on another one. Our defense keeps playing like that, all we have to do is not turn the ball over and we’ll win games.”

The 49ers defense was suffocating in the third quarter. After the touchdown drive, the 49ers defense forced yet another Vikings three-and-out. Cousins and the Vikings offense had no answer for the 49ers defense in the third.

Getting the ball back with a 24-10 lead, the 49ers could put away the Vikings with another touchdown on this drive. (Turns out I must have jinxed it, because the 49ers went three-and-out.) But wait — the 49ers special teams forced an enormous turnover. The punt from Wishnowsky was muffed by the Vikings returner, and recovered by the 49ers inside the red zone.

Beginning their drive following the muffed punt, the 49ers were given a golden opportunity to score a very quick touchdown. A couple of running plays and a short pass to Kittle gave the 49ers 3rd-and-4 from the 4-yard line as time expired in the third quarter.

What should have been a touchdown-scoring drive, resulted in a field goal by Gould. The 49ers extended their lead to 27-10 early on in the 4th quarter.

Cousins and the Vikings needed something, anything to get back into this game. Unfortunately for them, the 49ers defense was relentless. A three-and-out ending on a sack from Nick Bosa forced a Vikings punt.

Garoppolo and the 49ers offense struggled after the Coleman touchdown. A quick third-and-out for the second straight drive gave the Vikings the ball back with 11:00 left in the 4th quarter.

The Vikings following drive was almost a carbon-copy of their previous three drives. Unable to move the ball at all, DeForest Buckner sacked Cousins for the 49ers fourth sack of the game, resulting in another Vikings punt.

Continuing to dominate in the run game, the 49ers continued with their plan of attack. Three straight running plays by Coleman moved the 49ers to mid-field. As time ticked off the clock, the 49ers were close to putting this game away. Milking the clock, the 49ers punted with 4:32 left in the game.

Moving the ball with urgency, the Vikings quickly got to mid-field following the 49ers punt. With 2:26 left, the Vikings went for it on 4th-and-1, resulting in an incomplete pass, and a turnover on downs. With just over two minutes remaining, the 49ers got the ball back.

With victory in reach, the 49ers were two minutes away from clinching their spot in the NFC Championship game.

On 4th-and-1, the 49ers offense stayed on the field as they looked to milk the rest of the clock. A bizarre fumble by Breida gave the Vikings the ball at their own 49-yard line with 1:45 left.

Two plays into the Vikings net drive, Solomon Thomas sacked Cousins for the 49ers fifth sack of the game. That play? Followed up with another sack, this time Bosa again. Six sacks for the 49ers and the Vikings were cooked.

A 4th-and-22 for the Vikings was just short, resulting in another turnover on downs. With 16 seconds left, the 49ers took a knee and ended this game once and for all.

Up next

After winning the first playoff game of his career, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers will move on to the NFC Championship game next weekend. Their opponent? That will be decided Sunday night, as the winner of the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers game will travel to Levi’s Stadium. The winner of next week’s game? That team will go to the Super Bowl. An unbelievable season for the 49ers continues, as they are only one win away from a Super Bowl appearance.

Notes

  • In the second quarter, Jimmy Garoppolo was out in space on a run by Deebo Samuel and ended up throwing a block on a Vikings defender who was already off-balance. Garoppolo was proud of his block, even if it wasn’t that impressive.
  • The 49ers as a team are very young, not many players on the roster have playoff experience. One of the players who has played in the playoffs, and even won a Super Bowl, was Emmanuel Sanders. Post-game, Sanders talked about how the 49ers handled themselves throughout (most players) first playoff game:

“I knew how they were going to handle it. At the end of the day, if you look back at New Orleans and all of those games, they were playoff type games. It was a lot of pressure trying to get the number one seed and they performed. I had nothing but confidence that they were going to do it again because they have shown me time and time again under diress, under pressure that they make the big plays. You can look at Kendrick Bourne on that third down with that crazy catch and Deebo with the plays he was making. These young guys are poised and they believe in themselves. They have confidence and i feel like they are going to continually do that.”

  • 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is in the running for a head coaching position with the Cleveland Browns. Kyle Shanahan was asked if he feels he may have lost his defensive coordinator after such an impressive game:

“No. I mean, hopefully they’re not making their decision just off that game. He’s done a good job all year. But, i hope i didn’t. We’ll see how that plays out.”


Taylor Wirth

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