Cousins had, early in San Francisco’s 27-10 win Saturday, found wide receiver Stefon Diggs for a deep touchdown strike that gave the impression that the Vikings could find success against the 49ers’ defense like they had the against New Orleans Saints a week ago. But Diggs only had one more catch all afternoon.
So there was Sherman lurking at the first down sticks in the third quarter when Cousins was looking for Adam Thielen on a comeback route. Sherman beat Thielen to Cousins’ throw and picked it off. The 49ers gutted the Minnesota defense with eight straight rushing plays to go 44 yards and punch in another score, providing the Niners a cushion that would lead to a comfortable threescore victory.
If there were any questions about the San Francisco defense headed into the playoffs, consider them answered now. The 49ers allowed 11 points per game through the first seven games of the season, then, as injuries piled up, allowed nearly 26 per game the final nine games.
But a well-rested, well-rehearsed group under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was more than equal to the task against the Vikings, who were eighth in the League in scoring during the regular season. The 49ers held Cook, who averaged 81.8 yards per game in the regular season, to just 18 yards on Saturday. Cousins finished with 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 21-of-29 passing; 16 of those completions came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and seven of those came from behind it. The Niners sacked Cousins six times, benefiting from the return to health of edge rusher Dee Ford and the continued excellence of Nick Bosa, the presumptive defensive rookie of the year.
San Francisco will face either Green Bay or Seattle next week back at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., to play for their first NFC championship since 2013 and the right to play in Super Bowl LIV. Either would be a rematch of a regular season meeting. Coach Kyle Shanahan’s group split its season series with the Seahawks, losing at home in overtime in Week 10, but winning on the road in Week 17 with a last-second goal-line stand. San Francisco dominated the Packers in Week 12, 37-8, a game in which Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times and threw for only 104 yards.
The 49ers will hope for another dose of that kind of defense after an encouraging performance Saturday. After Sherman’s interception, the Niners forced the Vikings offense to go three-and-out on their next possession. The Vikings forced the Niners to do the same, but Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels couldn’t handle the San Francisco punt and the 49ers recovered the muff before adding a field goal.
Any hope for a Minnesota comeback was lost with the score then 27-10 and only a quarter remaining to play. At every position, San Francisco — which earned the conference’s top seed with its win at Seattle — was stronger, faster and more energized. The same was true for the Niners’ offensive front. After quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw a second-quarter interception that led to a Minnesota field goal, San Francisco only passed the ball six more times. The 49ers instead leaned on a rushing attacked that racked up 186 yards. Tevin Coleman led the way with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
But the lasting image was a 49ers defense that stifled Minnesota’s attack in every way, and figures to be a tough matchup for whichever opponent travels to face it next Sunday in the NFC championship game.
Find our in-game updates below.
January 11, 2020 at 7:26 PM EST
Niners complete a 27-10 victory over Vikings
The 49ers defense dominated the Vikings as San Francisco earned the right to play for a conference championship for the first time since 2013. They allowed Minnesota only 147 total yards of offense.
On offense, San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 131 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 11-of-19 passing. Tevin Coleman ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
San Francisco will face either Green Bay or Seattle next week back at Levi’s Stadium for the NFC championship and the right to play for Super Bowl LIV. (49ers 27, Vikings 10, end of regulation)
January 11, 2020 at 6:45 PM EST
Niners extend lead with a field goal
Minnesota’s defense stood up again and kept San Francisco out of the end zone, but now it’s a threescore game. After the muffed punt, the Vikings held strong for three plays to force a 21-yard field goal for Robbie Gould. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense have the rest of the fourth quarter to mount a comeback and keep their playoff hopes alive. (San Francisco 27, Minnesota 10, 14:13 left in fourth quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 6:35 PM EST
Special teams trips up the Vikings
The 49ers can really put a dent in Minnesota’s comeback hopes. The Vikings forced San Francisco into a three-and-out and a punt, but return man Marcus Sherels couldn’t handle the kick. Raheem Mostert scooped it up for the Niners, who now keep the ball and are set up first and goal at the 10-yard line. (San Francisco 24, Minnesota 10, 1:05 left in third quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 6:28 PM EST
Niners extend lead to 24-10 after Vikings turnover
San Francisco ran the ball on every snap on an eight-play, 44-yard drive which ended with a two-yard touchdown carry for Tevin Coleman, his second score of the game. The Niners worked on a short field thanks to Richard Sherman’s interception of Kirk Cousins on Minnesota’s last drive.
San Francisco Coach Kyle Shanahan has found a definite advantage running the ball against the Vikings’ front seven. The 49ers have rushed for two scores and 132 yards. Coleman has 67 yards and those two scores on 14 carries. (San Francisco 24, Minnesota 10, 4:54 left in third quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 6:15 PM EST
Cousins picked off by Richard Sherman
San Francisco has a chance to extend its lead. Kirk Cousins wanted Adam Thielen on a comeback route on third and nine from Minnesota’s own 34-yard line, but cornerback Richard Sherman beat Thielen to Cousins’s throw. The 49ers will start in Vikings’ territory at the 44-yard line. (San Francisco 17, Minnesota 10, 9:49 left in third quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 6:10 PM EST
49ers add a field goal out of halftime
San Francisco pushed its lead back out to seven with Robbie Gould’s 35-yard field goal on the first drive of the third quarter. It was set up by a 21-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Kendrick Bourne on third and five from the San Francisco 42-yard line. Gould connected on his kick six plays later after the Niners picked up another first down. (San Francisco 17, Minnesota 10, 10:42 left in third quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 5:50 PM EST
San Francisco leads, 14-10, at the half
Perhaps the only thing that separated the 49ers and Vikings through the first two quarters was the ability to sustain drives. San Francisco converted three of four attempts on third down. Minnesota was only successful on two of six tries.
Otherwise, both Jimmy Garoppolo and Kirk Cousins both faced a decent amount of pressure in the pocket, but were able to stay on target. Garoppolo threw for 105 yards, a score and an interception on 8-of-13 passing. Cousins was 10-of-12 for 81 yards and a touchdown strike to Stefon Diggs. The 49ers will receive the kickoff to begin the third quarter. (49ers 14, Vikings 10 at halftime)
January 11, 2020 at 5:47 PM EST
Vikings cut into 49ers’ lead with a field goal
Dan Bailey’s kick was good from 39 yards out. Consider it a win for the 49ers defense. San Francisco stuffed a screen pass to Dalvin Cook on first down, Kirk Cousins threw incomplete to Stefon Diggs on second down and defensive end Dee Ford crashed into the backfield for a sack on third down. (San Francisco 14, Minnesota 10, 0:31 left in second quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 5:38 PM EST
Vikings get the first takeaway
Minnesota’s defense made a much-needed stand. Linebacker Eric Kendricks intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass over the middle to set the Vikings up at the San Francisco 29-yard line late in the first half. (San Francisco 14, Minnesota 7, 2:27 left in second quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 5:30 PM EST
Niners take lead after overturned fumble ruling
San Francisco got back in the lead with a methodical 10-play, 53-yard scoring drive capped by a one-yard run over the left guard by Tevin Coleman.
The drive’s crucial moment was a fumble overturned by replay that allowed the 49ers to keep possession. San Francisco had a gadget play in the works — fullback Kyle Juszczyk took a handoff and pitched to wide receiver Debo Samuel who ran back across the formation to the left — when Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes ripped the ball away and Harrison Smith landed on it. But officials after replay found Samuel’s knee was down before the ball came out, and the 49ers’ drive continued. (San Francisco 14, Minnesota 7, 7:10 left in second quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 4:53 PM EST
Cousins and Minnesota answer
The Vikings tied things up on a 41-yard deep ball from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs. With the 49ers bringing heavy pressure on third and two, Cousins floated a ball up for Diggs, who adjusted mid-route to the pass and raced down the left sideline. Cousins answered Garoppolo’s fast start for San Francisco; he was 5-of-6 for 65 yards and the scoring strike on his second drive of the game. (San Francisco 7, Minnesota 7, 5:23 left in first quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 4:44 PM EST
A perfect start for San Francisco
The 49ers forced the Vikings into a quick three-and-out, then went 61 yards in eight plays on offense to take an early lead. Jimmy Garoppolo hit wide receiver Kendrick Bourne over the middle for a three-yard score. Garoppolo was 5-of-6 on the drive for 57 yards. (San Francisco 7, Minnesota 0, 9:30 left in first quarter)
January 11, 2020 at 4:35 PM EST
The Niners and Vikings are underway
The Vikings let the opening kickoff go through the end zone for a touchback. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense will start at the 25-yard line.