Now that’s how you win a playoff game.
With the the defense healthy and back to its early season form, the San Francisco 49ers played San Francisco 49ers’ football to the tune of a strong run game, elite defense, and a 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to advance to the NFC Championship game.
Here are Fangirl Takeaways on how they got the job done.
Defense Wins Championships
And divisional round playoff games. The bye week allowed the 49ers to get healthy, which meant the return of DL Dee Ford, LB Kwon Alexander, and S Jaquiski Tartt. It made a difference.
“We were able to get guys back healthy,” said defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who had a sack, two quarterback hits, and a tackle for loss on the day. “The guys that were playing all year were able to take care of the body a little bit longer. It was a great effort by the defense, honing in on their jobs. It was a great game plan by the coaches. We just went out there and executed.”
You can say that again. The run defense, which had struggled in the regular season, held Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook to 18 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was 21-of-29 for 172 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and he was sacked six times.
One of those sacks came from Ford, whose presence was felt on every snap he played.
“I told Dee, ‘I wish I could scare people with my presence like you do,’” said Nick Bosa. “I mean, when a guard sees Dee Ford on them, their mind is racing, they’re thinking about what he’s about to do, whatever it is. Just having his presence and his pass-rush ability, his knowledge and communication, he’s a true vet. It’s nice to have him out there.”
Ford felt, um, similarly.
“You are going to have to cart me off the field to get me to not play at this point and time,” Ford said after the game. Noted. Let’s not test that theory.
The rest of the sacks were two from Bosa, one from Arik Armstead, one from Buckner, and one from Solomon Thomas. Richard Sherman had a pick. It’s safe to say the defense is back where they belong.
And, of course, Alexander’s return was nothing short of, say it with me, legendary.
“I think the emotion is probably the same for the fans as it is for the players,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “When you get guys back who are really good players and made an impact all year, everyone is a lot more excited. The more players you have out there, the better chance you have. Once the game starts, that’s over. But, when you watch it out there, you’ll see more on tape, but it looks different. Starting with the rush with Dee Ford out there, just getting off the ball, whether he’s doing it or the other guys do it, the speed. Having Kwon out there. The times I’m looking up watching him, the way he flew around, made some plays on the screens. Even when he flew and missed the guy on the screen, he makes the back have to come to a complete stop and cut back the other way, then our pass rushers can get there. Tartt back there. Tartt has been great for us when he’s been out there. I knew it took him some time to get back with the injury that he had, but from what I saw, he played very well today. I’m pumped to have him next week playing.”
CB Ahkello Witherspoon was benched early after a defensive pass interference and giving up a touchdown on the same drive. He was replaced by Emmanuel Moseley who came in and played great defense to the tune of five tackles and two passes defended. Shanahan said he told Witherspoon before the game if he struggled, he would be benched.
Born to Run
The cool thing about a defense that’s rolling is it helps the offense do whatever it damn well pleases. That may not be entirely true, but let’s go with it anyway.
“…We had a goal going into this game,” Shanahan said. “We thought the team that got over 30 runs would win this game. We truly looked at that as a team goal. We ended up getting 47 on offense. It’s a lot easier to do when the other team goes 2-of-12 on third down. I think we were at 45%. I think they ended up only being able to get 10. When you just see the way the defense is playing it makes it so much easier to stay with that. I think our whole team kind of fed off of it.”
Well they well surpassed 30 runs, finishing with 47. Tevin Coleman was the star of the show today with 105 yards rushing on 22 carries with two touchdowns.
“He looked good out there today,” Shanahan said. “Tevin, I know his numbers haven’t been as great. Raheem [Mostert] has had some real good runs. I think Tevin has had some unfortunate looks, just the luck of the draw a little bit. I think he got some better looks today, took advantage of them. When you do that, I think it got him in a little bit of momentum. He was able to stay out there a little bit longer. I think he got some extra carries at the end, didn’t have to split them as much with Raheem cramping and stuff. That’s why we haven’t changed much. We’ve been excited about Tevin all year. Glad he got his opportunities today. He came through big for us.”
All those running plays meant less passing plays, with Jimmy Garoppolo passing the ball 19 times and completing 11 of those passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. That’s fine by QB1.
“There was one drive where we literally didn’t pass the ball, came off to the sideline, it was as excited as we’ve ever been offensively,” Garoppolo said. “When you can do that to a team, it makes it tough on defenses, when they have to bring more guys into the box, start bringing safeties down. We ran the hell out of the ball. Those guys up front battled their asses off. It was fun.”
Garoppolo also recorded his first pancake block, when he took down Vikings’ LB Anthony Barr. He’s a real renaissance QB.
“Oh, yeah, that was a good little block,” said LB Fred Warner. “I don’t know what happened with the dude he was blocking. But, yeah, got him on the ground. I hopped up out of my seat. Got me excited. Any time you see something like that, it gets the energy going.”
It’s something that’s been discussed all season, but this team finds a way to win and they do it together.
“It has been really fun this year,” said left tackle Joe Staley. “We have shown that we can win in a variety of different ways. We have had to really air out and make all of the plays in the passing game, when the run game wasn’t working. We have also had games like this when we run the ball well and control the clock. It really helps getting back everybody on defense. Our defense playing as terrific as they did today gives us the opportunity to really control the clock and I think the time of possession may have been nearly forty minutes of time of possession, those are all positives.”
Nick Bosa may be the smaller bear to Joey Bosa’s bigger bear, but when he bears down on quarterbacks, it’s a thing of beauty. (Sorry. The bear theme was just too good to resist).
The rookie linebacker had the two aforementioned sacks, six total tackles, a pass defended, three quarterback hits, and two tackles for a loss.
“He’s an incredible player,” Sherman said. “Bosa, you can’t say enough positive things about him and his play and his impact, run game, pass game. He’s just a dominant player. He wants to be dominant every down. He never gets complacent. He’s always working. Motor is always going. We’re grateful to have him.”
It was even more special for the younger Bosa, as brother Joey of the Los Angeles Chargers, was there to see it.
“That honestly gave me a little nerves,” Bosa said. “It was cool having him on the sideline. I don’t even know if he’s made a college game with his schedule. So just having him there, knowing they’re up in the box watching, waiting for me outside, it’s awesome.”
Bosa gave the fans a scare late in the game when he got the wind knocked out him after a sack of Cousins. After the fans chanted, “Bosa! Bosa! Bosa” he got up and put his hands in the air to the delight of Levi’s Stadium.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 11, 2020
“I hope Nick is all right,” Garoppolo joked. “It was tough, but he’s a tough guy, hopefully he’ll be okay. Yeah, it was just one of those moments, makes you kind of laugh a little bit on the sideline. Fans chanting Bosa and everything, it was a crazy atmosphere. I loved it.”
The 49ers will play the winner of the Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay game next week at Levi’s Stadium at 3:40 pm PT.