It's not the matchup many predicted, but it's one that has instantly become one of the more discussed going into NFC divisional weekend. The Minnesota Vikings walked into the fight with the San Francisco 49ers as underdogs, and the world saw why throughout the 27-10 victory by the latter.
Kirk Cousins and his offensive weapons were swarmed on their opening drive by the San Francisco defense, forcing a three-and-out before Jimmy Garoppolo took possession and marched down the field effortlessly to take an early lead. Not to be outdone though, Cousins came alive on his second drive and hit Stefon Diggs for a 41-yard touchdown strike to even the score.
It wouldn't stay tied for long, thanks to the physicality of Deebo Samuel in the second quarter. After key defensive stops fueled by an impact sack by both teams, Samuel imposed his will by delivering a key third-down conversion despite three defenders trying to prevent it, and then grabbing an 18-yard reception to put the Niners on the Vikings 1-yard line. Tevin Coleman would punch it in from there, and the pressure is once again on Cousins to deliver.
Overall, neither he nor Dalvin Cook and the rushing attack could, and a close game early slowly morphed into a convincing victory for San Francisco to keep their stellar 2019 season alive.
Saturday's divisional round games are in the books and there's a lot to go over. Will Brinson is joined by the Pick Six Superfriends to break it all down; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness.
Why the Niners won
It wasn't clear from the outset, but the fact the Niners were coming off of a bye week became evident by the time the second quarter rolled around. They used the Vikings fatigue against them by owning time of possession to a massive degree, and rattled off first downs effortlessly while Minnesota struggled to get five in four quarters of play. From there, it was just a matter of gashing the opponent with a heavy dose of running backs Tevin Coleman -- who had 105 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns -- along with Raheem Mostert.
The two combined for 163 yards on the ground and helped make Garoppolo's mostly pedestrian day inconsequential, the aerial exception being two key plays made by Deebo Samuel as he bullied his way through the Vikings on-demand. Defensively, they sacked Cousins six times and handed him an interception to boot, while shutting down the run attack at the same time. It's not that the Niners played flawless football, it's that they simply didn't stop punching -- even when they got punched back.
Why the Vikings lost
If an NFL team gets dominated in time of possession, first downs, third down conversion rate, total net yards, number of offensive plays, average gain per play and red zone efficiency -- they'll likely lose. There was little the Vikings did right offensively following their first quarter answer to the Niners opening drive touchdown, and while the defense sacked Garoppolo [only] twice and intercepted him another, their overall inability to keep their defensive unit fresh by way of an effective offense is ultimately what cost them big.
As they lick their wounds en route to Minneapolis, they'll be forced with facing a tough reality only one week after marching into Mercedes-Benz Superdome and upsetting the high-powered New Orleans Saints in the NFC wild-card game. The Niners are simply another class of fighter, and it showed on Saturday in a scheduled 12-round bout that basically ended in seven.
Play of the Game
Father Time, Schmahther Time. Richard Sherman does what he wants, when he wants, and this third quarter interception led to another touchdown by Coleman that put San Francisco up 24-10, and Minnesota reeling into the corner.
With Sherman's play having teed up the nail to be hammered into the coffin, the Vikings helped seal their own fate with this muffed punt late in the third quarter -- a desperately needed stop by their defense -- that led to it becoming a three-score game. From there, the Niners simply dropped the casked and filled the hole with dirt.
A microcosm of the Vikings day
"Vikings finally get a third-down stop, but then they muff the punt and SF has the ball at the MIN 9-yard line." - Dan Graziano of ESPN
The Vikings will start prep for the 2020 NFL Draft, while the Niners move on to their first NFC Championship Game since 2013.