BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Showing the benefit of an extra week of rest thanks to a bye week, the 49ers used a dominating defensive performance to destroy the Minnesota Vikings 27-10 at Levi’s Stadium Saturday afternoon to advance to the 16th NFC Championship game in franchise history.
Buoyed by the return of injured starters Dee Ford and Kwon Alexander, San Francisco’s rejuvenated defense limited Minnesota to seven first downs and 147 yards of offense, the fewest in 49ers playoff history and the lowest total in the NFL playoffs in the last five years.
The Niners got six sacks from five different players, two by Nick Bosa, and Richard Sherman intercepted Kirk Cousins early in the third quarter to set up a touchdown drive when the Vikings were still in the game in spite of a listless first half by their offense, to help lead San Francisco to their first playoff win since 2013. Minnesota had 11 possessions and went three-and-out seven times while going just 2-for-12 on third downs. Dalvin Cook, the tenth leading rusher in the NFL during the regular season, was held to just 18 yards.
The 49ers running attack controlled the game as Tevin Coleman rushed for 105 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Raheem Mostert added 58 on 12 carries as San Francisco ate up huge portions of the clock, controlling the ball for over 38 minutes while limiting the Vikings to just over 21 minutes of offensive play. Mostert also recovered a fumble on special teams late in the third quarter deep in Minnesota territory to set up a Niners field goal for the final score of the game.
After holding Minnesota to a three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, the Niners responded with an eight-play, 61 yard drive that culminated with a three yard touchdown pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Kendrick Bourne. Appearing in his first game in the post-season, Garoppolo wasn’t a major factor in the win, completing a pedestrian 11-19 for 131 yards with an interception along with the touchdown.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, asked about the importance of the touchdown on the opening drive setting the tone and getting the crowd involved, stated “It’s huge. We didn’t play all last week. You’re at your home crowd and you want to come out and be like that. You could hear the fans just in pregame warmups. The stadium was electric. It was different than it’s been. When our defense holds them, I want to say it was three-and-out to start. We get in there, are able to go down and get seven. It’s a great feeling.”
Shanahan added, “The Bye Week helped the most. None of those guys (Alexander, Ford and safety Jaquiski Tartt) would have been available last week. So, it was perfect to give them the week that they had, so their first game back was now. I think they all got out of it, from what I know of, pretty clean and should be ready to go again next week.”
Five years after his Seahawks were denied the opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions on the game’s final, Sherman’s mission of returning to the ultimate game after tearing his Achilles was bolstered by his interception, but after the game he was more interested in giving credit to the 49ers offense. “It’s not like you can say, going into a game against our offense, you’ve got to stop this guy (All-Pro tight end George Kittle) and it’s over. I don’t know what George’s numbers were, but he had impact today. You’ve got to account for him.”
Sherman added, “You’ve got to account for Raheem (Mostert). You’ve got to account for Emmanuel (Sanders). Deebo (Samuels). Jimmy. T-Cole (Coleman). A lot of balance. And on defense, you have to worry about all three levels.” He added, “This team deserves it. Jimmy Garoppolo played a fantastic game on offense. Kyle Shanahan deserves it. He’s a heck of a coach. Robert Saleh deserves it. [Special teams coordinator Richard] Hightower deserves it. All our position coaches. Our D-Line. Team deserves it. We work week in and week out. We try to put our best on the line. We don’t always get the results we want, but this team is a team, it’s a family.”
With the win, the 49ers will host the winner of Sunday’s Seahawks-Packers game for a chance to play in Super Bowl LIV in Miami.
San Francisco has already faced both of their potential Championship game foes during the regular season. The Niners embarrassed Green Bay 37-8 in a Week 11 Sunday night game at Levi’s, and traded road wins with Seattle in a pair of games that both came down to the final play.
With the win: The Niners improved to 5-1 against the Vikings in postseason play, with each game coming in the Divisional Round. San Francisco also improved their overall record to 16-7 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The 21 rushing yards allowed by the 49ers defense is the fewest allowed in a postseason game in franchise history.
The last time the 49ers held a postseason opponent without a first down on seven-or-more drives was Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 against the Chargers.
The six sacks tied for the second most in a postseason game in franchise history. In addition to Bosa’s two sacks, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas each took down Cousins for a loss.