Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers Dominate Vikings to Advance to 2020 NFC Championship

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2020

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 11: Tevin Coleman #26 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts to scoring a touchdown during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings during the NFC Divisional Round Playoff game at Levi's Stadium on January 11, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers held serve at home, beating the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 at Levi's Stadium on Saturday in the NFC Divisional Round.

The 49ers are in the NFC Championship Game for the first time since 2013, the last of their three straight trips to the conference title round.

Minnesota's wait for a first Super Bowl title extends for another season. One playoff win probably isn't the return the Vikings expected through the first two years of Kirk Cousins' three-year, $84 million contract.

The 49ers took an early lead with a three-yard touchdown reception by Kendrick Bourne on their first drive of the game.

San Francisco didn't begin pulling away from the Vikings until the third quarter, though, when Tevin Coleman scored on a two-yard touchdown run to help make it a 24-10 game.

A two-score deficit was too much to overcome for a Minnesota offense that gained 147 yards.

           

Notable Performers

  • Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers: 11-of-19, 131 yards, one touchdown, one interception
  • Tevin Coleman, RB, 49ers: 22 carries, 105 yards, two touchdowns
  • Raheem Mostert, RB, 49ers: 12 carries, 58 yards
  • Kirk Cousins, QB, Vikings: 21-of-29, 172 yards, one touchdown, one interception
  • Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings: nine carries, 18 yards; six receptions, eight yards
  • Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings: two receptions, 57 yards, one touchdown

                  

San Francisco Wears Down Vikings Defense

Saturday encapsulated the value of bypassing Wild Card Weekend. While the Vikings needed overtime to beat the New Orleans Saints, the 49ers had a week to rest and recharge for the divisional round.

San Francisco only held a four-point halftime lead despite being in control for much of the first half. But Kyle Shanahan's plan was to exploit any Vikings fatigue.

The possession culminating in Coleman's third-quarter touchdown showed how effective the strategy had become. Working with a short field, the Niners called eight straight run plays as they steadily moved the ball against a tired Minnesota defense.

Totaling 308 yards in a playoff game generally isn't ideal. In San Francisco's case, that number was an illustration of how much the offense set the tone. The Niners possessed the ball for 38:27 of the 60 minutes.

Cousins connected with Stefon Diggs on a 41-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to tie the score.

Aside from that play, San Francisco was dominant on defense and made Cousins' life a nightmare in the pocket. Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead each registered at least one sack.

Bosa delivered one of the day's more entertaining moments, quickly rising to his feet after it appeared he was injured on a sack of Cousins in the fourth quarter.

Given the balance they displayed Saturday, it's hard to think the 49ers will fall short of a conference title.

                 

Niners Secondary Holds Cousins in Check

Minnesota's victory over the Saints a week ago had a cathartic feel for Cousins, especially in light of his passionate postgame speech in the locker room. The win seemed to answer the skeptics who questioned whether Cousins could get the Vikings over the top.

Those same questions will inevitably arise after Cousins averaged 5.9 yards per pass attempt Saturday.

San Francisco allowed only 169.2 passing yards per game in 2019, fewest in the NFL, so it was a bad matchup from the outset. Cousins' inability to move the ball through the air was surprising nonetheless.

Cousins did his best to avoid Richard Sherman. On one of the few times he targeted Sherman, the Pro Bowl cornerback picked off the pass in the third quarter.

The presence of a running game would've helped Cousins. But Dalvin Cook was a non-factor, which allowed the 49ers to focus their efforts almost exclusively on stymying Cousins and Minnesota's aerial attack.

The Cleveland Browns confirmed Thursday they planned to interview Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski for their head coaching vacancy. Saturday's defeat wasn't the kind of impression Stefanski will have wanted to make if he's interested in a move to Cleveland.

In terms of the bigger picture, Minnesota basically finds itself in the same position it was a season ago, after having missed the playoffs altogether: The Vikings might have a firm ceiling on their championship ambitions with Cousins under center.

               

What's Next?

The 49ers await the winner of the Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers, which kicks off Sunday at 6:40 p.m. ET. Regardless of the outcome, San Francisco will host the conference championship.

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