Upon Further Review: Vikings manhandled in season-ending playoff loss to 49ers
The last time Minnesota beat New Orleans in a playoff game, head coach Mike Zimmer felt his team had an emotional letdown the following week when it was blown out in Philadelphia in the NFC championship.
Zimmer warned against such a pitfall moments after last Sunday’s overtime wild-card win over the Saints.
Only it wasn’t emotions or mental breakdowns which did in the Vikings on Saturday in a 27-10 loss to San Francisco. Instead it was physical. Simply put, Minnesota was manhandled by the 49ers.
Save a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs which tied the game at 7 in the first quarter, Minnesota could get little going on offense as the 49ers overwhelmed the Vikings’ offensive line, stuffed the run game and stuck tight to receivers running routes.
The Vikings finished with just 147 net yards – or just 106 on the 44 plays (2.41 average) excluding the score. Sixty-six of those yards came on Minnesota’s final two drives, when the game was out of hand.
After the Diggs’ score and before those final two drives in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had the ball seven times – six of those resulted in three-and-outs (those drives resulted in eight total yards). The other went for eight yards on six plays, although it did result in a field goal as Minnesota had taken over at the San Francisco 29 after a turnover.
Other than Diggs’ reception, Minnesota had only one play of 20+ yards – Irv Smith Jr.’s 21-yard reception on the Vikings’ final offensive play of the game.
Not that San Francisco’s offense was humming – but it didn’t have to be. The 49ers had a long play of 22 yards and totaled only 308. But once the 49ers took the lead, they just ran over a tired Minnesota defense – San Francisco had a nearly 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession over the Vikings, who had to play six days after their wild-card win as well as in two time zones away.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw only six passes in the second half – two in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, San Francisco rushed for 186 yards on 47 carries, helping burn off the clock as well as tally the game’s final 13 points, including Tevin Coleman’s second rushing TD.
Maybe it was part emotion, maybe it was part San Francisco having a week to rest or maybe it was just that the 49ers were the better team. On Saturday it sure looked like the latter, especially physically.
Here’s a recap of Saturday’s divisional playoff game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
There wasn’t much to crow about from the Minnesota side of things but linebacker Eric Kendricks demonstrated why he was named a first-team All-Pro. His interception of Garoppolo was not only a thing of beauty but also came at an opportune time in the game. Kendricks read the play from the start, anticipated the throw then stepped in front of Deebo Samuel to make the pick. With under three minutes to play in the half it denied the 49ers a chance to get points at the tail end of the first half then go for the double-dip to open the second half (as San Francisco received the kickoff to start the third quarter). It wasn’t Kendricks’ fault the Vikings couldn’t cash in with a touchdown and had to settle for a field goal. Kendricks also had eight tackles, tying for second on the team, and two of Minnesota’s four passes defensed.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Uh … well … Britton Colquitt averaged 48.3 yards per punt with a 44.5 net and placed three of his six kicks inside the 20-yard line. So, at least he didn’t make things worse?
San Francisco got a field goal on its opening possession of the second half, but it was still a one-score game. On its opening possession of the third quarter, Minnesota faced a third-and-9 from its own 34. Cousins threw to a spot where he thought wide receiver Adam Thielen would be – but Thielen stopped his route and Richard Sherman was there waiting for the ball for an easy interception. San Francisco drove down the field for a touchdown – and set the tone for the rest of the game, running the ball eight straight times – to boost its lead to 24-10. With the way the game was going, the Vikings seemed like they were in big trouble. And they in fact were.
We’re warning you: This section might not be suitable for younger eyes. The Vikings had just 21 yards rushing (Dalvin Cook had 18 on nine carries; he also had just eight yards receiving despite six catches). It marked just the 16th time in NFL playoff history that a team had 21 or fewer rushing yards and the 12th time that team also failed to record a rushing touchdown. The last time a team in the playoffs had 21 or fewer rushing yards and no rushing TDs was San Diego on Jan. 11, 2009 at Pittsburgh. Minnesota also, not surprisingly, had no rushing first downs. That hadn’t happened in a playoff game since Philadelphia at Dallas on Jan. 9, 2010 and was just the fifth time it occurred since 2000. The Vikings only had seven first downs in total (six passing, one penalty). No team had seven or fewer first downs in a playoff game since Kansas City (two rush, five pass) at Indianapolis on Jan. 6, 2007. It was just the 12th time overall in the playoffs that a team had such first-down futility and eight of those occurred during the 1979 season or earlier.
THEY SAID IT
“It’s a pretty good rush, so that’s probably why. It doesn’t matter who, they didn’t have, they didn’t need to blitz much. They’ve got good pressure with four guys. Pressure affects quarterbacks typically. I don’t think it had anything to do with the four-man rush, or three-man rush or an eight-man rush.” — head coach Mike Zimmer on the problems the 49ers’ pass rush caused QB Kirk Cousins
“We knew what we would be facing. We knew they were the number one seed with a Bye and home field advantage. You earn that, and you’re a good team. You can look at a lot of their statistical numbers on defense. They’ve proven that they’re a good front, a good defense and a good team.cI felt like they did a good job on the bootlegs and stopped the run. We didn’t convert third downs. We just needed to hit a few more third down conversions down the field.” — Cousins
“We were just not really able to get in a rhythm, so they were able to sit back and do what they do. We just never got a rhythm and they were just able to fly around and make plays.” — running back Dalvin Cook
“It was completely my fault. I didn’t cross his face and obviously he trusted me to win on that route and make a play on the ball. I didn’t do that.” — wide receiver Adam Thielen on Cousins’ pass which was intercepted by Richard Sherman
“We were beating ourselves. We just weren’t getting to the ball and once we got there, we had too many missed tackles as a group.” — defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson
The majority of the core of Minnesota’s playoff team will return in 2020, including head coach Mike Zimmer. Three key pieces of the secondary – cornerbacks Mackenzie Alexander and Xavier Rhodes and safety Anthony Harris — are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, as are punter Colquitt and kicker Dan Bailey. There will also eventually have to be some kind of decision on quarterback Cousins, who will be entering the final year of his three-year deal. The Vikings will need a new offensive coordinator, too, as Kevin Stefanski got the Cleveland Browns’ head coaching job (it will be the fourth different OC in four years for the Vikings). There’s plenty to come before Minnesota suits up for a game that matters, but the Vikings’ offseason starts now.