1. Hot Cousins goes cold on third down
The Vikings went into Saturday’s divisional playoff game at San Francisco as the No. 2-ranked team in converting third downs via the pass (43.7%). It appeared early on in the 49ers’ 27-10 beatdown that Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins would be able to function in front of an amped up crowd on third down. After basically throwing the ball away on third down to open with a three-and-out, Cousins came back with two third-down conversions on the Vikings’ second possession. With strong protection and time to throw, he hit Adam Thielen for 12 yards on third-and-2 and Stefon Diggs for a 41-yard touchdown on third-and-2. But from that point until falling behind 24-10, Cousins went 0-for-4 passing on third down. The low point was the miscommunication with Thielen that led to a Richard Sherman interception on third-and-9. The 49ers led 24-10 eight plays — all runs — later.
2. 49ers win ‘Best Throwback Offense’
When the 49ers took their 24-10 lead at the 4:54 mark of the third quarter, the league’s No. 2-ranked running team had 132 yards rushing and 20 total first downs. The Vikings? Well, they had 15 yards rushing and four first downs. In other words, in the battle of similar throwback offenses, the 49ers won forcefully. When the Vikings fell behind 24-10, they had run just nine first-down plays. They ran the ball four times — all by Dalvin Cook — for six yards with no run longer than 3. Their six first-down pass attempts came with four completions for 12 yards and a sack. Meanwhile, the 49ers were delivering a two-headed first-down beatdown in the form of Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. At that point, the 49ers had run the ball 23 times on first down. That persistent pounding led to these first-down runs to open the second half: 5, 5, 6, 4, 6, 4, 2-yard TD and ballgame.
3. Garoppolo plays game-manager role well
The 49ers and Vikings both had 48 sacks on the season, ranking fifth in the league. The 49ers had 39 of those sacks through 10 games while defensive end Dee Ford (6 ½ sacks) was healthy. They had just nine sacks with him playing only four snaps in the last six games. Ford was listed as questionable (hamstring) but played and notched his first sack since Week 10. Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo’s lack of mobility was exposed on San Francisco’s second possession with sacks by Danielle Hunter and Stephen Weatherly. But after that, the 49ers leaned almost exclusively on their running game and protections that worked on the first possession, when Garoppolo threw six of his 19 passes and wasn’t pressured on any of them. Six of Garoppolo’s passes came in the 49ers’ first eight snaps. He completed five with one drop and a touchdown.
4. Vikings waste Abdullah’s best day
In a game that featured two strong defenses and an expected battle of field position, the Vikings completely wasted the best return day of Ameer Abdullah’s season. He had a return of 39 yards. The Vikings got the ball at their 43-yard line. They went three-and-out. He had 31-yard kick return. But Cousins turned that into a game-crushing interception on the miscommunication with Thielen. Overall, Abdullah had five returns for 148 yards, a 29.6-yard average that was a season high in games in which he had multiple returns. On the flip side, the standout Vikings career of punt returner Marcus Sherels no doubt came to a horrific ending. He fielded two punts. A fair catch. And a muff that the 49ers recovered and turned into a field goal. An unfortunate ending for the best punt returner and multiple record-holder in franchise history.
5. Short week vs. bye week shows early
It wasn’t as bad a start as turning the ball over on the second snap in New Orleans, but the Vikings sure energized Levi’s Stadium with another lame start. They opened with two Cook runs that netted 2 yards. 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner blew up the second run on second-and-7 when he split the gap between center and left guard. Center Garrett Bradbury couldn’t reach his block in time to stop the 6-7 giant from brushing by and blasting Cook for a 1-yard loss. Cousins essentially threw the ball away out of bounds on third-and-8. Unlike last week in New Orleans, the defense didn’t offset the offense’s slow start. The 49ers went 61 yards in eight plays — with Garoppolo going unpressured on all six attempts — for a 7-0 lead. The start was a reminder that since 2015, the teams coming off the first-round bye were 13-3 in divisional play.