The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 27-10, on Saturday, advancing to the NFC championship game for the first time since the 2013 season after pounding the Vikings in a divisional-round playoff game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
The 49ers’ defense dominated, shutting out the Vikings in the second half and turning the flow of the game for good in the third quarter.
In the NFC championship game next week, San Francisco will host the winner of Sunday’s NFC divisional game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.
The 49ers ran for 186 yards, including 105 yards and two rushing touchdowns by Tevin Coleman, as they controlled the game, and their defense overwhelmed Minnesota in all aspects. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo made his first playoff start and went 11 for 19 for 131 yards, a touchdown and an interception as the 49ers improved to 14-3 overall.
“We all understand what we’ve got to do — and we scare everybody,” 49ers defensive end Dee Ford, freshly returned from an injury, said after the game.
It was San Francisco’s first playoff win since having beaten the Carolina Panthers, 23-10, behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Jan. 12, 2014. That team went on to lose the NFC championship game to the eventual Super Bowl champions, the Seahawks.
In five previous playoff matchups dating to 1970, the 49ers had beaten the Vikings four times. Their last postseason meeting, in 1998, was a third consecutive blowout by the 49ers. San Francisco entered Saturday’s game as the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a heavy favorite. Minnesota was a little more hobbled and bruised going into a game against a rested and dangerous opponent.
San Francisco took an early lead on a Garoppolo touchdown pass after a near-perfect first drive. The 49ers went 61 yards in eight plays, and Garoppolo completed 5 of 6 passes, with a 3-yard touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne on a simple slant.
It was the worst possible beginning for the Vikings, who had gone three-and-out on their first possession. Their offensive line was on its heels, Kirk Cousins looked a bit nervous waiting for the snap on the third-down pass, and his throw was high.
But after the 49ers’ touchdown, the Vikings marched 79 yards in seven plays and evened the score at 7-7. The touchdown came on a 41-yard pass from Cousins to Stefon Diggs. San Francisco defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon fell down, and Diggs turned back to get the pass and then waltzed in untouched. The 49ers later replaced Witherspoon with Emmanuel Moseley.
On the third play of that drive, when a punt would have been disastrous, Cousins took the heat of a 49ers rush and completed a pass for a first down. Cousins also took a crunching hit from Arik Armstead on a naked bootleg and completed that pass, too.
The drive sent a message, and the Vikings closed out a successful first quarter. Mike Zimmer’s defense started applying pressure on Garoppolo, who was sacked and came up hobbling with a twisted ankle.
The momentum shifted, however, when it looked as if the 49ers’ Deebo Samuel had fumbled and the Vikings had the first turnover of the game. But a review found that Samuel’s knee had come down before he lost the ball. San Francisco went on to score on Coleman’s 1-yard plunge.
The drive was really Samuel’s. He fought his way to a first down after initial contact and later caught the pass that got the ball to the 1-yard line. From there, it was only a question of when. The 49ers had 23 rushing touchdowns this season, the most in the NFL.
Minnesota’s Dan Bailey kicked a 39-yard field goal as the second quarter ended, narrowing the 49ers’ lead. An interception set up that score, but the 49ers closed out an entertaining first half with a 14-10 lead.
Cousins completed 10 of 12 passes in the half for 81 yards and the touchdown to Diggs, but the San Francisco defense bottled up Dalvin Cook, holding him to 11 yards on six carries.
The Vikings surrendered a field goal on the first drive of the second half, and then, a few plays later, Cousins threw an interception — his first in three playoff games — to Richard Sherman. The pass was intended for Adam Thielen, who seemed to have gotten crossed up on the play and did not turn around for the ball.
San Francisco’s field goal, which increased the lead to 17-10, was set up by a great third-down catch by Bourne, who soared high between two defenders to catch the pass at the Minnesota 37.
At best, it was classic bend-don’t-break defense by the Vikings, who held on the final third-down play to force the kick.
Coleman scored his second touchdown, giving the 49ers a commanding lead at 24-10, with 4 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third quarter. Sherman got them the ball with his interception, and San Francisco pounded it down the field with eight running plays, asserting its physical dominance. Coleman finished the game with 105 rushing yards on 22 carries for an average of 4.8 yards.
“When you go an entire drive just running the ball, you just feel like you’re imposing your will and it just gives you a ton of confidence on the offensive side,” San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “It makes it so tough for defenses when there’s long drives like that, and things are physical. It’s just tough to hold up for the rest of the game.”