Whatever magic the Vikings found at New Orleans last weekend was nowhere to be seen Saturday at San Francisco.
While this playoff game, a 27-10 loss to the 49ers, didn’t quite rank with the 41-0 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game in January 2011, or the 38-7 loss at Philadelphia for the NFC title two years ago, it was a tough showing for a franchise that had a lot of momentum heading into this contest.
San Francisco controlled all three phases of the game. Even though the Vikings tied the score early with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs, the statistics were completely lopsided in the top-seeded 49ers’ favor.
It wasn’t until some meaningless final drives that the Vikings surpassed 100 yards of offense. At one point in the fourth quarter they had managed only 81 total yards and four first downs. San Francisco finished with 308 yards and 21 first downs; the Vikings had 147 yards and seven first downs.
This loss doesn’t take away from a very good season, but the front office will have a lot of question marks heading into next season because they have nearly $204 million allotted to only 40 players, according to the salary-tracking website Spotrac. The NFL salary cap figures to be around $199 million in 2020.
The Vikings also have to figure out how to fill a roster that could lose Everson Griffen, Trae Waynes, Anthony Harris, Rashod Hill, Mackensie Alexander and Dan Bailey, among others, to unrestricted free agency.
But for now, the focus has to be on how thoroughly San Francisco defeated the Vikings on Saturday. There really weren’t many excuses for this game — San Francisco simply looked like the better team.
Running back Dalvin Cook was everywhere against the Saints, tallying 94 rushing yards and two touchdowns to go along with 36 receiving yards on three catches. But on Saturday, he never got going.
Against the Niners, Cook finished with only 18 yards on nine carries, and while he had six receptions, they totaled 8 yards.
Cousins had that long touchdown pass to Diggs, but he also threw an interception to Richard Sherman in the third quarter and that enabled San Francisco to double its lead to 24-10. The game was never in doubt after that.
Cousins, who was so confident in the Saints game, just didn’t seem comfortable vs. the 49ers pass rush. He finished with 127 passing yards on 26 attempts, good for 4.9 yards per pass.
But it wasn’t just the offense. While the defense made a big play when Eric Kendricks grabbed an interception in the second quarter, which led to a Bailey field goal and a 14-10 deficit at the half, the fact is it could not get off the field.
This defense has been historically excellent on third down under coach Mike Zimmer, but this year it just wasn’t the same. Saturday the 49ers finished 5-for-12 on third down, with conversions on third-and-10 and third-and-12, along with a 21-yard completion on third-and-5.
Last week the Vikings controlled time of possession at New Orleans — 36:56 to 27:24. Saturday, the 49ers nearly doubled the Vikings’ time — 38:27 to 21:33.
The 49ers just looked like the more dominant team, even with coach Kyle Shanahan and starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo making their playoff debuts in their respective roles.
Season of highs and lows
The highs of defeating the Saints followed by this performance against the 49ers really matched a lot of the Vikings’ story lines from their 2019 season.
This was an up-and-down squad that had some great winning streaks but also had its share of down stretches. They just didn’t look consistent from week-to-week.
They got off to a dominant start with a 28-12 home victory over Atlanta, but by the end of September the Vikings were 2-2 after really struggling in two road division losses at Green Bay (21-16) and Chicago (16-6). After the loss to the Bears, many fans believed the season was going to fall apart.
But instead the team went on an absolute tear, winning eight of their next 10, including a 4-0 run in October. The Vikings’ only losses in that stretch were on the road to playoff teams, 26-23 at Kansas City and 37-30 at Seattle.
From Week 5 to Week 15, the Vikings ranked third in the NFL in point differential, outscoring teams by 98 points. The only teams who were better during the Vikings for that stretch were Baltimore and San Francisco, the teams that ended up with the No. 1 seed in each conference.
But then came the Monday night home game with the Packers, when the Vikings needed to win to give themselves a shot at winning the division. Instead, Green Bay dominated the second half, won 23-10 and earned the NFC’s No. 2 seed. The Week 17 game with the Bears was meaningless, but the Vikings lost that one too.
Yes this was an up-and-down Vikings season that ended with a great playoff victory followed six days later by a difficult playoff loss.
Now it’s wait-and-see for how this team is going to try and add pieces to a roster that came up short in the postseason again.
• The Vikings’ 2020 schedule is tied for the 10th most difficult in the league. Next season’s opponents had a combined 131-123-2 record in 2019 (.516 winning percentage). The only team in the NFC North with a tougher schedule is the Lions at 134-121-1. The Vikings’ opponents this season finished with combined record of 121-133-2.
• Former Gophers defensive back Tramaine Brock played for the Titans on Saturday night in their AFC divisional matchup against the Ravens. Brock had 45 tackles this season and had four more in last week’s 20-13 wild-card victory over the Patriots.
• Speaking of New England, the Las Vegas sportsbooks have the Vikings tied for the eighth-highest odds to have Tom Brady next season.
• Rich Hill, the veteran lefthander signed by the Twins on Dec. 31, has the sixth-best strikeout rate per nine innings of any pitcher with at least 50 starts since 2015. Only Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Yu Darvish and Stephen Strasburg have done better.
• Twins General Manager Thad Levine on the chance that Miguel Sano could wind up at first base: “It’s a consideration. He has played first base in the past in the major leagues. He always rises to the occasion, and I think he does a nice job over there. We like the fact that he can still play at third base.”
• Pro Football Focus ranked Gophers sophomore Tanner Morgan as the ninth-best quarterback in college football in its end-of-year rankings. It also had two Gophers players in its top 100 NFL draft prospects, with Tyler Johnson at No. 31 and Antoine Winfield Jr. at 77.
• PFF had this note about Vikings center Garrett Bradbury: “Eleven of Bradbury’s 26 pressures allowed on the season came against the Packers.”
• After averaging 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds for the Wolves last season, Taj Gibson is averaging 4.5 points and 4.4 rebounds for the Knicks in 34 games.