Compared to the emotionally-battering playoff losses of the past, this 27-10 defeat should sting less.
The Vikings survived on the plucky underdog mentality for one week of the postseason, but when met by a rested, superior team, they caved. Minnesota looked downright feeble on offense and exhausted on defense. San Francisco outgained them 308-147, held the ball for nearly 40 minutes and eviscerated Minnesota on the ground in the second half.
Minnesota’s streak of 32 seasons without multiple playoff wins continues. They head into the offseason with major personnel questions on defense and potentially some coaching staff turnover.
SLOW ON O
While the defense folded under an efficient 49ers attack, the offense’s ineptitude contributed by failing to extend drives.
Minnesota was persistent in trying to establish Dalvin Cook on the ground, but it never happened. Cook was stonewalled for 18 yards on nine carries, while the Vikings’ conservatism on first downs constantly kept them behind the chains. On their first 12 first downs , the Vikings averaged 1.7 yards. Cousins was sacked six times by San Francisco’s fierce — and healthy — defensive front.
The early-down playcalling put Cousins in tenuous situations that he couldn’t work out of. The Vikings finished 2 of 12 on third down, including an interception thrown to Richard Sherman in the third quarter that seemed to tangibly swing the tide. Then Cousins was sacked on 3rd and 8 early in the fourth quarter that basically turned the lights out on the Vikings’ season.
Only 12 teams had delivered an offensive performance at 3.0 yards per play or worse since the turn of the century. Minnesota sat at 2.5 with 4:32 remaining and finished at 3.3.
Kevin Stefanski is the only one who may be more scrutinized than Cousins after the loss, though the Vikings entire offensive philosophy may be called into question. Minnesota appeared stubborn to adapt once early signs indicated there was nowhere to go on the ground or in the screen game. It’s yet to be determined if Stefanski lands a head coaching job in Cleveland after interviewing with them Thursday. It’s also the second straight time in the playoffs where the Vikings have laid an offensive egg after their coordinator interviewed for a job (Pat Shurmur, 2017).
The speedy 49ers were bound to provide a big test for the Vikings’ secondary, which held up so well the week prior in New Orleans. There was little resistance offered early as the 49ers scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives. Xavier Rhodes was beaten a handful of times, including on Kendrick Bourne’s touchdown grab on San Francisco’s opening drive. Deebo Samuel was effective early with three catches, 42 yards.
The 49ers were also far more successful establishing a run game with their Vikings-like zone scheme, which has ironically given the Vikings fits at times defensively. San Francisco enforced its will with eight straight run plays to score a third quarter touchdown that put them up 24-10. The Vikings run defense wilted this season when teams were able to stretch them to the boundaries, and the 49ers used a healthy mix of outside and inside runs to expose them. They finished the game with 47 carries for 186 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS FACTORS IN
It was special teams feast or famine for the Vikings, who dominated the 49ers in the kick return game. Ameer Abdullah brought back four kickoffs behind the 25-yard line. But the Vikings produced exactly zero first downs from those field position advantages.
An uncharacteristic day from Marcus Sherels hurt the Vikings as well. Sherels muffed two punts on the day, recovering the first one himself but losing the second inside Minnesota’s own 10-yard line. The 49ers knocked in a field goal after the turnover to go up three possessions, 27-10.
EARLY DEEP SHOT
Down 7-0, the Vikings responded with a methodical drive to tie the game. Stefon Diggs was shut out of the Saints game for most of the first three quarters, but he made an early impact with a 41-yard touchdown catch against Ahkello Witherspoon, adjusting to an underthrown ball by Cousins.
Stefon Diggs HOUSE CALL! 🏠
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 11, 2020
Other than the touchdown, however, Cousins and Diggs seemed to be lacking chemistry in the first half. Cousins overthrew Diggs on the game’s opening drive, then missed him on a crucial 2nd and 11 in the red zone late in the first half. Diggs only catch after the touchdown came in garbage time.