SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Returning to the Levi's Stadium press box reminds me of three games that I watched from here that could prove to be precursors to today's game between the Vikings and 49ers.
In 2015, a Vikings team with high hopes, and that would make the playoffs, played its season opener at Levi's and lost 20-3 as the 49ers manhandled them up front. Carlos Hyde rushed 26 times for 168 yards and the 49ers' team total, thanks in part to Colin Kaepernick, were 39 rushes for 230 yards.
The 49ers also held Adrian Peterson to 31 yards on 10 carries. The Vikings proved to be the better team over the course of the season, but an inability to run or stop the run turned that game into an upset.
At the end of that season, the Broncos played the Panthers in the Super Bowl at Levi's. Mark Craig and I covered the game for the Star Tribune. I picked the Panthers to win because Peyton Manning looked old and journeyman C.J. Anderson was their best running back, and Cam Newton was at his career peak.
The key player in that game turned out to be Broncos defensive end Von Miller, who dominated the line of scrimmage and helped his team to an easy 24-10 victory.
When the Vikings played the 49ers in the divisional playoffs following the 2019 season, they were coming off a playoff victory in New Orleans. The 49ers manhandled them, winning 27-10, rushing 47 times for 186 yards and holding the Vikings to 21 rushing yards on 10 carries.
If the Vikings are to win today, they'll have to avoid playing that type of game — the kind of game where the 49ers' physical rushing attack and pass rush dominate the game flow.
What's funny about this is the 49ers are, of late, playing the way Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wishes he could play: dominating with the run, keeping his defense rested, then cutting loose the pass rush.
But the 49ers are better suited to playing that style right now. Are the Vikings, with a reconstituted defensive line, strong enough to stop the 49ers' running game? And will the Vikings' passing game, which has been dominant the last two weeks, keep making enough big plays that the 49ers can't rely merely on ball possession?
This is a completely different test than the Vikings faced the last two weeks. If they can win a third straight game against a playoff contender, they will deserve an immense amount of credit for surviving their toughest stretch of schedule.