The Minnesota Vikings went to the Bay Area attempting to get back over .500 for the first time in almost two years. Despite once again having a seven-point lead, the defense leaked and the Vikings found themselves trailing throughout the entire second half.
This time there was no Kirk Cousins magic to be had. A last-minute drive stalled at the San Francisco 49ers’ 38-yard line after Cousins and Co. could not convert a fourth-and-eight.
Here are five numbers that tell the story of the Vikings’ loss to the 49ers.
The Vikings played one of their worst quarters of football at what feels like the worst possible time, allowing the 49ers to score 20 points in the third quarter. After the defense allowed San Francisco to go into halftime tied, the 49ers capitalized on their momentum and scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half.
To make things worse, instead of a methodical drive that kept the defense off the field and potentially leveled the score, Cousins ended up throwing an interception on the first play of the next drive. One play later, the 49ers were able to double their lead to 14. For some good measure, they tacked on two field goals before the end of the quarter.
The Vikings were able to get one offensive touchdown after a five-play, 75-yard drive. They added an additional six points courtesy of a 99-yard kick return by Kene Nwangwu. They were outscored by eight in the quarter. But the losses of both Anthony Barr and Dalvin Cook hurt even worse. They look like they will have to potentially miss time during this crucial stretch of games when the Vikings are making a wild card push.
Minnesota’s defensive woes started with the ground game. The 49ers were able to run for 208 yards on the day. We all knew that San Francisco’s game plan would be similar to the Kubiak-Stefanski offenses we have seen in the past. They were going to run to set up play-action and pass plays. You would think that understanding this would lead the Vikings’ defense to be more equipped to stop the likes of Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel from running all over them. However, that wasn’t the case.
I understand that this defensive unit is missing its entire starting line, with Danielle Hunter, Sheldon Richardson, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Everson Griffen all being absent from the game. But the run defense still shouldn’t be this bad. One of the things this team prided itself on was their depth along the D-line. However, the 49ers’ offensive line was able to plow through them on Sunday and let their ball carriers consistently pick up chunk yardage.
The Vikings’ offense struggled to convert third and fouth downs, finishing a combined 3/11 on these downs. The offense started hot when head coach Mike Zimmer made the aggressive call to go for a fouth-and-goal by the end zone. They were able to capitalize on it after Adam Thielen made a spectacular grab in the back of the end zone to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead. However, as the game went along, the offense struggled to convert on these meaningful downs. They only converted one third down on their other two touchdown drives.
They were unable to convert a third-and-eight on the final drive. However, the Vikings probably got a bit of hard luck with a pass interference not being called after K.J. Osborn was pushed before the ball got near him. Though Vikings fans would be quick to blame this loss on poor officiating, the offense also stalled out at San Francisco’s three-yard line after Cousins comically lined up under the right guard, forcing the offense to burn one of their two remaining timeouts. Then the Vikings ran play-action on fourth-and-goal when nobody was playing the run.
The officiating was far from perfect today, and plenty of decisions didn’t go the Vikings’ way. But the officials aren’t in a position to decide these games if you avoid making mistakes.
The offensive line executed well in pass protection, allowing only one pressure on the day. Entering the game, Vikings fans had memories of the last time the Purple and Gold went to San Francisco in the playoffs. The 49ers’ dominant defensive line lived in the backfield and made life nearly impossible for Cousins.
However, this time the Vikings’ offensive line was able to keep Nick Bosa and Co. quiet almost all the game. After last week’s performance when the Green Bay Packers pressured Cousins on 43% of his dropbacks, this bounceback from the offensive line was very welcome. While they still have plenty of work to do in clearing running lanes for the ball carriers, this game feels like a step in the right direction.
The Vikings’ defense was on the field for much longer than they should have been, yet again. The 49ers’ offense possessed the ball for a total of 37:07 on Sunday afternoon. San Francisco was able to have a lot of success with their run-heavy style of football and was able to manufacture two drives over seven minutes long.
The 49ers were able to run down the clock when the Vikings handed them a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, and the combination of their running game and quick passes kept a tired Vikings defense on the field. We have seen this before, like in the Baltimore Ravens game. When the defense is on the field for that long, they usually gas out and are prone to letting up chunk yardage in the running game.