Santa Clara, Calif. – Mike Zimmer described the NFL playoffs this week as “big-boy football.” The Vikings got a big ol’ dose of big-boy football on Saturday.
The CliffsNotes version: One team ran the ball at will. One team ran into a wall. Over and over and over.
There was nothing fancy about the demolition that took place at Levi’s Stadium. The San Francisco 49ers flexed their muscle and went old school in steamrolling the Vikings 27-10 to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
The better team won. The more physical team won. The more complete team won. Pretty straightforward stuff.
Statistical comparisons are usually lopsided in blowouts, but one stat told the story of this one-sided affair more than others: The 49ers rushed for 186 yards. The Vikings rushed for 21.
Ballgame. Season over.
“They ran the hell out of the ball,” linebacker Eric Kendricks said. “We couldn’t stop it. That’s Football 101. We’ve got to stop the run, and we’ve got to run the ball.”
A few Vikings players blamed their performance on a lack of execution, but that theory seems to suggest that they are equal to the 49ers and just had a bad day at the office. That’s not the case.
The Vikings were overpowered physically. The defense showed its age. The offense displayed no creativity or firepower.
The Vikings were good enough to be a playoff team and win a game, but the 49ers reside in a different weight class. That will be tough to digest and gives the organization lots to sort through when reshaping the roster this offseason.
“They punched us in the mouth,” receiver Adam Thielen said.
One sequence painted that picture in sobering detail.
Leading 17-10 in the third quarter, the 49ers got the ball back on a Richard Sherman interception at the Vikings’ 44-yard line.
The 49ers started the drive with a run. Then called another. And again. The Vikings couldn’t stop them, so the 49ers kept handing the ball off to their trio of running backs.
Eight times in a row on that drive. Eight!
The final one felt like air rushing out of the Vikings season. Tevin Coleman’s 2-yard touchdown run pushed the lead to double digits, the equivalent of a sports car zooming away at the traffic light while the Vikings offense sat idling.
The 49ers ran the ball 47 times. The Vikings had 45 plays total. That’s remarkable.
“Coach Zim told us coming in that one of the keys to victory is whoever can run the ball and control the clock will control their fate,” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “We didn’t do well in either.”
The 49ers edged the Vikings in time of possession by nearly 17 minutes. Vikings defenders will feel that in the morning.
“No fatigue,” defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We just didn’t stop the run well.”
The offense shared the misery. Their game plan was a broken record. Run Dalvin Cook, get stuffed, punt after a three-and-out. Seven of their 11 possessions lasted only three plays.
As predicted this week, the game would be won in the trenches. It was. Decisively.
San Francisco’s defensive line lived up to its billing as the best in the business. The Vikings offensive line failed to duplicate its strong performance against the New Orleans Saints last week. The 49ers shut down Cook, and the Vikings had no Plan B.
The 49ers offensive line had complete control, too. Every run seemingly yielded five yards or better. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is prone to mistakes, but his team really didn’t need much from him besides handing the ball off. He threw only 10 passes after the first quarter.
“They had the flow of the game of the majority of the game,” Griffen said.
They did it the old-fashioned way. Run the ball, stop the run. Nothing fancy but highly effective.
Yes, it didn’t help that the Vikings were playing a second game in six days while the 49ers were fresh. But it wouldn’t have mattered. The 49ers showed why they are the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The gap between the two teams looks awfully wide right now.